Appearing in the March/April 1997 issue of Public Health Reports
Because fluoride has been so effective in preventing cavities on smooth surfaces of teeth, 83% of tooth decay is now concentrated in the naturally occurring pits and fissures of molars, which are difficult to keep clean. Sealants--plastic coatings placed primarily on the top of molars--fill the pits and fissures, preventing them from collecting decay-causing bacteria and degenerating into cavities. Fluoride protects the smooth surfaces of teeth-- where 17% of cavities occur.
The most recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1991) found that while half of 6- to-8-year-olds and two-thirds of 15-year-olds have had cavities, relatively few children have had sealants applied to permanent teeth.
Poor children are least likely to get adequate dental care and so are at greatest risk for suffering the negative effects of tooth decay. State and local health departments are trying to reach children and adolescents through school-based or school-linked sealant programs.
Sealants are also recommended for adults who have recently experienced tooth decay in pits and fissures.
CONTACT: Mark D. Siegal, DDS, MPH, Chief, Bureau of Oral Health Services, Ohio Department of Health; tel. 614-466-4180; fax 614-728-3616; e-mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
OTHER AUTHORS: Carrie L. Farquhar, RDH; Jo M. Bouchard, RDH, MPH.