February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and there’s no better time to confront the food, bacteria, and gunk that lurks in the deepest recesses of every child’s mouth. It’s difficult enough to get youngsters to brush and harder still to scrub down the first set of permanent molars that pop up around age 6.
“At this age, most children still require help keeping teeth clean — especially in the back where these molars live — which can be a challenge for parents,” says Kat Lane, DMD, a pediatric dentist who practices at Kaiser Permanente Dental at Keizer Station, near Salem, Oregon. “Sealants add a ‘safety net’ to keep these important teeth healthy.”
Sealants for safety
Kaiser Permanente Dental has encouraged the use of sealants and regular cleanings for nearly 30 years as part of its overall approach to preventive dentistry. It’s a critical strategy to address an age-old dental health issue that’s out of sight, out of mind, and easy to miss.
Teeth in the back of the mouth have deep grooves and pits that tend to trap food that adheres to the surface of the tooth, Dr. Lane says. The food mixes with bacteria to cause cavities, and those teeth are difficult to clean because the bristles of a toothbrush are too wide to get to the bottom of the grooves.
So dentists apply sealants, which are thin protective coatings typically made of resin, that fill the bottom of the pit, covering the teeth and making them easier to clean.
Sealants work: They protect against 80% of cavities for 2 years and 50% for up to 4 years. Last year, Kaiser Permanente Dental provided nearly 20,000 sealants for more than a quarter of pediatric patients between the ages of 6 and 14.
Applying sealants is easy and painless, says Dr. Lane, who has been with Permanente Dental Associates since 2014. She compares it to applying polish to fingernails.
Safety measures during the ongoing pandemic
Although concerns about safety during the COVID-19 pandemic have led to a drop in Kaiser Permanente Dental visits, Dr. Lane says she hasn’t heard as many concerns from parents and patients in recent months.
“Early on,” she said, “we would get a few parents with questions about COVID-19 risk at the dental office. I reassured them by asking about their specific concerns and reviewing the precautions in place at our office.”
Those precautions include COVID-19 screening for all patients before their appointment, screening for symptoms at check-in, limiting visitors, and providing N95 masks and face shields for all clinical staff. Patients with cloth masks are given medical-grade paper masks, which are more effective, and air purifiers are always running in treatment areas.
A reminder for good dental hygiene
National Children’s Dental Health Month is a good reminder for parents to make sure their kids are caught up on annual appointments and cleanings.
In addition to making an in-person appointment, if you are a Kaiser Permanente member, you can get expert advice at any time using Kaiser Permanente Virtual Dentistry.