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Preventing Tooth Decay Through School-Based Dental Sealant Programs

In 2009–2010, 16.9% of children ages 6 to 9 years had untreated dental decay in their primary and permanent teeth, while 11.4% of adolescents ages 13 to 15 years had untreated dental decay in at least one permanent tooth. To address this health concern among children and adolescents in Michigan, the SEAL! Michigan School-Based Dental Sealant Program, administered by the Michigan Department of Community Health, provides 3-year grants to dental providers in the community to implement school-based sealant programs. Grantees include federally qualified health centers, public health clinics, and schools of dentistry and dental hygiene. They enter into formal partnerships with schools to implement sealant programs. To participate, schools must demonstrate the need for sealant programs. The Michigan Department of Community Health prioritizes schools whose participation in the Free and Reduced School Lunch Program is at least 50%.

One grantee of the SEAL! Michigan program, Smiles on Wheels (SOW), uses a unique model to run its school-based dental sealant program. SOW is run by two dental hygienists serving 40 schools in 6 rural counties. Throughout the school year, SOW visits each school and provides sealants to children in the first, second, sixth, and seventh grades. SOW works with school administrators to educate parents on the benefits of sealants and to obtain parents’ permission for the children to participate. On screening days, SOW sets up portable equipment at school facilities, and participating students are scheduled to have their sealants applied during the school day.

SOW also provides oral health education to students. While children wait to be seen, they watch a video that teaches them how to take care of their teeth, including the importance of avoiding sugar-sweetened beverages (“liquid sugars”). SOW also works with parents and families to link children to the dental care that they need. SOW staff members call parents to inform them of any additional dental work that is needed, and they follow up with families to ensure that work takes place. In some instances, SOW helps families to find a dentist to perform the work or assists with transportation needs.

SEAL! Michigan helps prevent tooth decay in thousands of children each year. In the 2010–2011 school year, SEAL! Michigan screened 3,432 students in 90 schools and applied sealants to 14,448 teeth. Of these students, Smiles on Wheels screened 586 in 30 schools and provided 2,797 sealants. SOW has seen the impact on students’ lives firsthand. One of the students who participated in a SOW screening day suffered from untreated oral infections, but her family had no access to a dental provider. SOW found a dentist for her, faxed a dental report to the dentist, and arranged transportation to the appointment for her family. SOW worked to overcome barriers that kept the student from receiving care. In recognition of its impact on so many children and families, the Association of State & Territorial Dental Directors has recognized SEAL! Michigan as a model program.1

1 School-based dental sealant programs [Internet]. Sparks, NV: Association of State & Territorial Dental Directors; 2003 Jun [cited 2013 Feb 6]. Available from:

Date Posted:
Organization Name: Michigan Department of Community Health
Program Name: 

SEAL! Michigan School-Based Dental Sealant Program

P.O. Box 30195
Lansing, MI 48909
United States
Healthy People 2020 Topic Area(s) addressed: 
Healthy People 2020 Objective(s) addressed: 
Healthy People 2020 overarching goal addressed: 
Attain high-quality, longer lives free of preventable disease, disability, injury, and premature death.
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