Seal the Deal



 

For odontophobics, few things incite the kind of fear that  accompanies a trip to the dentist. Any procedure, paste or tincture that can head off needles, scalpels or drills is worth considering. It all boils down to cavities. Prevent cavities now, head off  visits later. Any dentist will tell you that hygiene – good old brushing and flossing – is the best way to prevent decay and that good habits start young. But try asking kids to brush and floss now so that their teeth will still be healthy when they’re 40. Clearly, the less patient buy-in needed, the better.  One solution is dental sealants. An Effective Treatment  A dental sealant is a simple physical barrier between a tooth’s surface and the inside of the mouth, which is loaded with microbes. Sealants are generally painted onto teeth, especially the grinding surfaces of back molars, which contain pits and fissures in which decay-causing bacteria can live.  The plastic-resin coating has been around since the early 1970s. Though simple, dental sealants are extremely effective.  The U.S. Surgeon General’s office reports that dental sealants are 70 percent effective at reducing decay. Combined with fluoride  treatments, they have the potential to virtually eliminate childhood dental decay. With millions of kids not receiving adequate dental care, it’s hard to overestimate their potential value.  Nationwide, dental decay is five times more common than childhood asthma. In California, the Lucile Packard Foundation reports that one in four has untreated cavities. Beyond causing unneeded discomfort, letting kids’ teeth go has a  measurable cost to society. The Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, estimates that American children miss a staggering 52 million hours of school each year due to tooth decay and other dental problems. In one Arkansas study, tooth pain was the  number one cause for missing school among third-graders. This translates to a significant loss of federal-aid dollars because of absenteeism. A Bargain for Those Who Know Dental sealants are not just effective, but  relatively inexpensive. Dr. Michael Bouzid, a family dentist in Cupertino, estimates that in the Bay Area, sealants run $40 to $80 per tooth and last five to 15 years, depending on the child’s dental habits. “[A sealant] relieves the rate of dental decay, but you still have to take care of it,” says Dr. Bouzid. “So in some people that have sealants and take care of their teeth, you can see the sealants lasting forever. But if you have kids that have sealants and they practice really poor hygiene, they still can get decay.” He recommends sealants for both baby and permanent teeth. Baby teeth are important to protect, he says, because a child will have them for a decade. In addition, baby teeth are placeholders for permanent teeth. If a primary tooth falls out prematurely, the resulting space will be misshapen, affecting the permanent tooth. Insurance typically covers the cost, and in California,  low-income patients covered by Denti-Cal can also get sealants on permanent teeth. Yet only 25 percent of kids have them, well below the 50 percent target set by Healthy People 2010, a cross-country health initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. One reason for the low interest is simply that people don’t know about them. Other parents have concerns about their toxicity. While most dentists believe that sealants pose no health hazards to consumers, sealants do contain  bisphenol-A (BPA), the ubiquitous and controversial plastic additive thought by some to cause heart disease, diabetes, and liver problems.  In Santa Clara County, even though 83 percent of kids have dental insurance, a 2001 study by the Campbell-based Health Trust reports that 120,000 local kids don’t see a  dentist regularly. Statewide, 25 percent of California’s youth have never visited a dentist, much less sought out dental sealants.  But some states are bringing sealants into the community and schools. Utah, Arizona, Arkansas, Minnesota, Texas, Wisconsin, and Illinois have all sponsored dental sealant  programs directed at high-risk children. n  Cynthia Marshall Schuman is a frequent contributor to Bay Area Parent.

 

For odontophobics, few things incite the kind of fear that accompanies a trip to the dentist. Any procedure, paste or tincture that can head off needles, scalpels or drills is worth considering.


It all boils down to cavities. Prevent cavities now, head off visits later. Any dentist will tell you that hygiene – good old brushing and flossing – is the best way to prevent decay and that good habits start young. But try asking kids to brush and floss now so that their teeth will still be healthy when they’re 40. Clearly, the less patient buy-in needed, the better. 


One solution is dental sealants.



An Effective Treatment

A dental sealant is a simple physical barrier between a tooth’s surface and the inside of the mouth, which is loaded with microbes. Sealants are generally painted onto teeth, especially the grinding surfaces of back molars, which contain pits and fissures in which decay-causing bacteria can live. 


The plastic-resin coating has been around since the early 1970s. Though simple, dental sealants are extremely effective. 


The U.S. Surgeon General’s office reports that dental sealants are 70 percent effective at reducing decay. Combined with fluoride treatments, they have the potential to virtually eliminate childhood dental decay. With millions of kids not receiving adequate dental care, it’s hard to overestimate their potential value. 


Nationwide, dental decay is five times more common than childhood asthma. In California, the Lucile Packard Foundation reports that one in four has untreated cavities.


Beyond causing unneeded discomfort, letting kids’ teeth go has a measurable cost to society. The Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, estimates that American children miss a staggering 52 million hours of school each year due to tooth decay and other dental problems. In one Arkansas study, tooth pain was the number one cause for missing school among third-graders. This translates to a significant loss of federal-aid dollars because of absenteeism.



A Bargain for Those Who Know

Dental sealants are not just effective, but relatively inexpensive. Dr. Michael Bouzid, a family dentist in Cupertino, estimates that in the Bay Area, sealants run $40 to $80 per tooth and last five to 15 years, depending on the child’s dental habits.


“[A sealant] relieves the rate of dental decay, but you still have to take care of it,” says Dr. Bouzid. “So in some people that have sealants and take care of their teeth, you can see the sealants lasting forever. But if you have kids that have sealants and they practice really poor hygiene, they still can get decay.”


He recommends sealants for both baby and permanent teeth. Baby teeth are important to protect, he says, because a child will have them for a decade. In addition, baby teeth are placeholders for permanent teeth. If a primary tooth falls out prematurely, the resulting space will be misshapen, affecting the permanent tooth.


Insurance typically covers the cost, and in California, low-income patients covered by Denti-Cal can also get sealants on permanent teeth. Yet only 25 percent of kids have them, well below the 50 percent target set by Healthy People 2010, a cross-country health initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


One reason for the low interest is simply that people don’t know about them. Other parents have concerns about their toxicity. While most dentists believe that sealants pose no health hazards to consumers, sealants do contain bisphenol-A (BPA), the ubiquitous and controversial plastic additive thought by some to cause heart disease, diabetes, and liver problems. 


In Santa Clara County, even though 83 percent of kids have dental insurance, a 2001 study by the Campbell-based Health Trust reports that 120,000 local kids don’t see a dentist regularly. Statewide, 25 percent of California’s youth have never visited a dentist, much less sought out dental sealants. 


But some states are bringing sealants into the community and schools. Utah, Arizona, Arkansas, Minnesota, Texas, Wisconsin, and Illinois have all sponsored dental sealant programs directed at high-risk children.


Cynthia Marshall Schuman is a frequent contributor to Bay Area Parent.

 


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Low-cost Children’s Dental Clinics


  • A new, low-cost clinic, the Children’s Dental Center, recently opened in East San Jose’s Tropicana Shopping Center. See childrensdentalcenter.org.


  • For more information about kids’ dentistry in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, see kidsdentalhealth.org.

 

 

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