It’s long been understood that whenever possible, preventative measures are far better and cheaper than treating a problem that’s already developed. Basic preventative measures like brushing and flossing are already a part of most people’s daily oral care routine. But others, such as getting dental sealants, are too costly for some people to afford despite their well-documented positive effect on cavity prevention.
To address this issue and help increase children’s access to preventative oral care, school districts across the US in low socioeconomic areas have begun offering programs that provide subsidized dental sealants to kids while they’re at school. According to an October 2016 study by Kennesaw State University, this program is proving highly effective at protecting children’s teeth and saving money in the long run.
What Are Dental Sealants?
Dental sealants are a thin layer of resin applied to the back molars. Getting sealants is fast, easy and painless — especially compared to the removal and filling of cavities. The resin bonds to the top of the molar, sealing off crevices and grooves in the tooth. This process prevents bacteria from building up and potentially triggering tooth decay in spots that are more difficult to reach with a toothbrush.
According to the CDC, sealants prevent 50 to 80 percent of cavities for four years after application; school-age children without sealants have three times more cavities on average compared to children with them. Yet despite this clear evidence of sealants’ effectiveness, only 43 percent of kids six to 11 years old have had them.
Protecting Teeth, Saving Money
Though they’re ultimately cheaper than treating cavities, dental sealants’ cost is the main reason they’re not more common. In fact, it’s the only true downside when you consider dental sealants pros and cons.
State-funded programs that provide sealants to low-income children free of charge are obviously saving the families money, but they’re also saving money for everyone. Under our current system, children who can’t afford adequate dental care will often end up at the ER with severe tooth pain. That could require a very costly series of treatments, all of which would end up getting billed to Medicaid — and eventually passed on to the taxpayers.
Sealants being provided at schools also means that parents don’t have to potentially take time off of work to take their children to the dentist, another cost-saving result that the researchers at Kennesaw State University took into consideration. The study was conducted over the course of 18 months and used mathematical and economic modeling to weigh the costs and benefits of the program. The CDC has determined that providing sealants to the nearly 7 million low-income children currently lacking them would result in a total savings of $300 million in dental treatment costs.
Based on the results, the KSU researchers, the CDC, and various non-profit and governmental agencies are all pushing to have funding increased and access to these programs expanded to provide more dental sealants for kids across the country. They’re focusing their efforts on low-income areas and rural areas, where families either can’t afford regular dental care or would need to travel a long way to visit a dentist.