Dental Sealants: Proven to Prevent Tooth Decay

Dental sealants are protective coatings that are applied to children’s most cavity-prone teeth and have been shown to reduce tooth decay by up to 60 percent. And the average cost of applying a sealant is less than one-third the cost of filling a cavity. Yet providing sealants to children who are most at risk of decay is no simple task. This May 2014 report by the Children's Dental Health Project (CDHP) examines the challenges that states face as they implement School Sealant Programs (SSPs).

CDHP's report, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, explores the factors that shape SSPs’ ability to reach more children in effective, sustainable ways. The report, Dental Sealants: Proven to Prevent Tooth Decay, is based on a series of surveys and interviews with stakeholders across the country. Lengthy surveys were completed from officials in 39 states and the District of Columbia. The report provides a more detailed look at five states with longstanding SSPs that reach substantial numbers of children: Illinois, New York, Ohio, South Carolina and Wisconsin. As the report notes, “The lesson learned from comparing and contrasting (these) five states … is that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to SSP success.” In addition, Dental Sealants: Proven to Prevent Tooth Decay identifies four keys to success for SSPs:

  • Financing: A variety of financing approaches can support effective SSPs, and the report calls it “critically important” for states to be able to bill Medicaid or CHIP when providing services to enrolled children.
  • Partnerships and collaboration: Successful sealant programs generally had state oral health programs acting as leaders and facilitators that arranged partnership agreements and formalized contracts for quality control of local SSPs.
  • Cost efficiency: Three of the five states profiled have dental practice acts that permit dental hygienists to place sealants in public health settings under general supervision. Efficient programs maintained effective administrative structures and tracked accountability. Wisconsin shared data that confirmed its efficiencies.
  • Adaptability: Successful SSPs recognize and respond creatively to the changing political, policy, and administrative landscapes. This includes adjusting to the evolution of Medicaid managed care through which contracted vendors become significant players in determining the composition of provider networks.

To download the sealant report, please click on the above attached PDFs. To access the web version, please find the report here, and the appendices here.


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