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1.1 Description and History of School-Based Dental Sealant Programs and Program Basics

Image of sealed tooth and of mouth highlighting pits and fissuresImage of sealed tooth and of mouth
highlighting pits and fissures
Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings that are bonded to the pit-and-fissure surfaces of teeth to prevent dental caries. Sealants provide a physical barrier that stops debris and decay-causing bacteria from collecting in the pits and fissures of vulnerable teeth (mainly molars), which are difficult to clean because the pits and fissures can be narrower than a toothbrush bristle.1

Sealant placement is the most appropriate strategy for preventing dental caries in pits and fissures. School-based programs generally provide sealants to children who are less likely than their higher-income counterparts to receive private oral health care. These children include those who attend Title I schools as well as those enrolled in federal programs such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or Medicaid, or those who are uninsured.1

The NSLP is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.2

Throughout these modules, "school-based dental sealant programs" refer to both programs that are school-based (children screened and dental sealants placed at school) and those that are school linked (children screened at school, sealants placed at nearby clinic or other site). Both types of programs represent a community-based approach to disease prevention, which means that they are designed in response to population data and in accordance with public health principles. School-based dental sealant programs are not primary oral health care settings, such as private practices or clinics, which can offer continuous care and have access to a full array of options for diagnosing and treating dental caries.

Although school-based dental sealant programs deliver a clinical preventive service, usually by dental hygienists or dental assistants, when they are designed in response to population data and in accordance with public health principles, they represent a community-based approach to disease prevention. Sealant programs are not primary oral health care settings, such as private practices or clinics that can offer continuous care and have access to a full array of caries diagnostic and treatment options.