County promotes dental sealant

Health Department mails information to 2nd-graders' parents

Procedure prevents decay

June 02, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

The county hopes second-graders will open wide and say "aaahhh" this year for a little dentistry that won't hurt them a bit.

In a pilot program that begins this month, the county Health Department is encouraging parents of second-grade pupils to have their children's teeth sealed with a plastic coating that helps prevent decay.

Health Department officials are sending letters and brochures to parents of children in all county elementary schools explaining what a sealant is, how it is applied and how it will benefit their children. Parents are being encouraged to take their children to their dentist, or to make an appointment with health clinics in Glen Burnie or Annapolis.

Parents from six schools in north and west county and six from the Annapolis area will be contacted this summer. The Health Department will contact the rest of the schools throughout the school year.

"We're trying to start a good preventive program," said Beverly A. Jimenez, dental program manager for the county Health Department. "The big emphasis is to educate parents. Many times when you explain what a sealant is, parents are like, `Let's get them.' "

A dental sealant is a plastic material applied to the chewing surfaces of molars to protect against bacteria and food that can get stuck in grooves and crevices. In those grooves where enamel is the thinnest, fluoride is the least effective, said Dr. Richard Price, a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association.

`Caulking a crack'

"Those little grooves are responsible for 85 percent of the cavities kids get," Price said. "What you're doing [with sealant] is caulking a crack. The area is 100 percent protected."

Second-graders are the best candidates for the procedure because by then most children have developed four permanent molars -- two spaces ahead of the wisdom teeth. Those teeth are in danger of decay because the so-called six-year molars develop at an age when children eat candy and are most careless about brushing and flossing.

Teeth are most susceptible to decay within three years of pushing through the gum, Jimenez said, but the sealant lasts several years.

"I've seen them stay on for 10 years or so," Jimenez said. "The emphasis is the sealant gets the children through the cavity-prone years. If it comes off, it can be easily reapplied."

Painless procedure

The procedure is painless. The tooth is cleaned, prepared with a slight acid solution and dried before the sealant is brushed on like fingernail polish. The tooth is dried again with a tiny heat lamp.

The sealant is virtually invisible -- either opaque or clear -- and the children don't feel it. Doctors warn that the sealant only covers the chewing surface of the tooth and cannot get in between teeth, so regular brushing and flossing are important.

The procedure is cost effective and covered by most health insurance plans. In private practice, a patient may pay between $20 and $50 to have each tooth sealed, Jimenez said. But the cost for a crown after a cavity has developed is $500 to $700 a tooth.

The Health Department charges for dental visits on a sliding scale, based on family income and the number of people in the household. Many families can have the work done at no charge or for a small fee.

The Health Department will send letters throughout the school year to parents of second-graders in all 76 county elementary schools. Anyone interested in making an appointment can call the health clinics. For the Glen Burnie clinic, call 410-222-6861; for the Annapolis clinic, call 410-222-7139.

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