School sealant programs (SSPs) increase sealant prevalence among children lacking access to oral health care. SSPs, however, are substantially underused. From 2013 through 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded 18 states for SSP activities in high-need schools (≥ 50% free and reduced-price meal program participation). From 2019 through 2020, the authors assessed SSPs’ impact in reducing caries and how states expanded SSPs. The authors also discuss potential barriers to expansion.
For Aim 1, the authors used a published methodology and SSP baseline screening and 1-year retention data to estimate averted caries over 9 years attributable to SSPs. For Aim 2, the authors used state responses to an online survey, phone interviews, and annual administrative reports.
Using data for 62,750 children attending 18.6% of high-need schools in 16 states, the authors estimated that 7.5% of sound, unsealed molars would develop caries annually without sealants and placing 4 sealants would prevent caries in 1 molar. Fourteen states reported SSP expansion in high-need schools. The 2 most frequently reported barriers to SSP expansion were levels of funding and policies requiring dentists to be present at assessment or sealant placement.
The authors found that SSPs typically served children at elevated caries risk and reduced caries. In addition, the authors identified funding levels and policies governing supervision of dental hygienists as possible barriers to SSP expansion.
Increasing SSP prevalence could reduce caries. Further research on potential barriers to SSP implementation identified in this study could provide critical information for long-term SSP sustainability.
Caries; fissure sealants; school health; school program.