Sealants in Schools: Thrift or Threat?

And for fourth period... See the dentist? Childhood caries is a widespread epidemic in the United States, and oral health professionals are scrambling to develop strategies to stem the tide. Among these solutions comes a new study investigating whether the placement of sealants in schools could represent a cost-effective prophylaxis against future, more expensive dental care.

Many students are low-income and have a heightened risk for caries. These same students may depend on Medicaid or some form of assistance to get the dental care they need, which otherwise would be delayed or neglected due to lack of funds. Taking this into account, researchers have partnered with the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention to investigate the cost-effectiveness of implementing proactive sealant programs in schools, with the logic that placing sealants on many patients will lessen the cost of future dental care. The question is whether the expense of the sealant program will come out to be less than the current expenditure on childhood dental assistance. However, sealants only protect a small portion of a child's dentition, and still represent a significant cost to place, although much less than a filling.

The pilot program was rolled out in select schools situated in low socioeconomic areas, focusing on those institutions where 50 percent or more of the student population were eligible for free or reduced-cost meals at school. A registered hygienist placed the sealants on children whose parents had signed a consent form. Where applicable, a portion of the cost was billed to the public or private insurance of the child's family.

This program was monitored for 18 months, and using a mixture of experimental data and mathematical modeling, the team quantified the expected savings, which were significant when compared to emergency room visits and later dental care billed to Medicaid. The researchers concluded sealants are underutilized in low socioeconomic areas, and represent major cost savings when compared to the expense of government assistance paying out to more advanced restorative care later on.

Source:
Kennesaw State University. (2016, October 26). School-Based Dental Sealant Programs for Children Reduce Cavities and Costs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 7, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161026165939.htm

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