Each year, Hernando County's second- and seventh-graders have the opportunity to receive free dental sealants through the School-Based Sealant Program. Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to prevent tooth decay.
Most tooth decay in children and adolescents occurs on the chewing surfaces of back teeth, or molars. This is because molars have irregular surfaces with pits and grooves that tend to trap food and bacteria. Sealants flow into and coat these pits and grooves so that bacteria cannot multiply.
Children should get sealants on their first permanent molars — 6-year molars — as soon as they come in, usually between the ages of 5 and 7. Sealants should also be applied to the second set of permanent molars — 12-year molars — when they come, generally between the ages of 11 to 14 years.
The application of sealants is quite simple and may be done by a dentist or a dental professional. First, the teeth to be sealed are cleaned. Then the teeth are dabbed with a very mild acid solution similar in strength to vinegar or lemon juice. This roughens the tooth surface slightly so that the sealant will bond properly.
After the teeth are prepared, the sealant is painted onto them. It flows into the pits and grooves and hardens in about 20 seconds. No numbing, drilling or removal of the tooth surface is required.
Under the direction of Dr. Madeline Berk, a Florida-licensed dentist, the School-Based Sealant Program provided screenings for dental sealants to 194 second- and seventh-graders, and 642 sealants were placed in the 2006-07 school year. A follow-up evaluation takes place the following year to evaluate the sealants placed the previous year and to place sealants on new molars as needed.
The School-Based Sealant Program is made possible through a partnership between the Hernando County Health Department dental program and the Hernando County School Board. It promotes preventive dental care and provides children who may not get regular dental care access to dental professionals. Services are provided on school grounds when children are in school, thereby decreasing the number of school days missed for dental reasons.
Having access to dental care and developing good oral health habits at an early age helps children get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
This article was provided by the Hernando County Health Department.