Published February 1, 2022
We know that oral health is integral to overall health, but the populations who face the most barriers in accessing dental care are the ones who need it the most—pregnant people, older adults, and children.
To make matters worse, accessing preventative health care of all kinds has become more challenging since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, a survey we funded found that 44% of Central Texans skipped some form of medical care due to COVID-19—a rate significantly higher than the state average of 36%. Nearly all of those who missed medical care chose to skip preventative appointments, such as dental checkups. Additionally, 45% of Central Texans faced financial hardship, including job loss, after the start of the pandemic, often limiting or eliminating access to healthcare coverage.
In Texas, a state with one of the highest rates of uninsured children, children suffer some of the worst consequences in terms of untreated dental care. Children living in poverty experience a higher prevalence of cavities, and children with untreated dental cavities can experience adverse outcomes impacting their overall health well into adulthood. Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease, but it is also completely preventable.
This is why dental sealants are such a powerful tool to prevent tooth decay in children. Sealants are thin coatings applied to chewing surfaces of molars (where 9 in 10 cavities occur) that provide 80% cavity reduction after two years and 60% after five. School-age children with dental sealants have almost three times less cavities than those who do not.
This preventative treatment is also cost-effective, at just 30% the cost of fillings, and can be easily and quickly administered in school programs. However, this data-backed intervention remains underused; fewer than half of children and adolescents have dental sealants, and most states lack any kind of school sealant programs.
But children in our region have had access to a free, in-school dental program for more than 20 years. The St. David’s Foundation Mobile Dental Program offers free dental screenings and sealants, along with acute care, to high-needs elementary schools within six Central Texas school districts.
Each year, our Dental Program recognizes National Children’s Dental Health Month within the schools we serve—but this year’s theme, “Sealants Make Sense,” hits especially close to home for us.
Due to the low cost and high efficacy of dental sealants, they are one of our dental team’s most used interventions. In 2021 alone, we administered 2,339 sealants to 1,774 patients through our dental program. Since the start of our program, we’ve administered 87,000+ sealants for an estimated value of over $16 million to almost 60,000 patients.
Everyone in our community can play a role in increasing the use of sealants for children and improving children’s oral health overall. School programs have proven to be especially helpful in aid of this goal, and state officials have the opportunity to increase access for millions of children by supporting such programs as well as expanding Medicaid. Families can help advocate for these programs in schools where they don’t exist, and find medical coverage and dentists for their children, on InsureKidsNow.gov.
Learn more about sealants here, and don’t forget to always follow these Healthy Smile Tips:
Learn more about our Dental Program here: https://stdavidsfoundation.org/our-programs/dental-program/