Chew on this: The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 40 percent of children 2-11 years old have had cavities in their baby teeth. More than 20 percent of those 6-11 years old have had cavities in permanent teeth.

This summer, Knox County Health Department and InterFaith Health Clinic will work together to try to keep more kids’ teeth intact.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays in July, the health department will provide dental sealants at InterFaith to children and young adults ages 6-21. There’s no minimum income requirement, and they don’t even have to be Knox County residents — all they need is an appointment, for which they call 865-215-5157.

The sealants are thin plastic coatings, painted on the molars at the back of the mouth and then hardened with a light, that fill in the pits and grooves on teeth where food could get trapped and cause decay if not thoroughly cleaned.

“The nice thing about dental sealants is that there’s no drilling, no shots,” said Angie Kelly, public health hygienist for the health department. “We tell children it feels like painting fingernail polish on your fingernails.”

There’s been some discussion over the fact that some sealants contain derivatives of bisphenol A, a chemical that mimics estrogen, but only small amounts. Several studies indicate BPA derivatives don’t have the same estrogen-based side effects pure BPA may; even so, the amounts present in resin dental sealants are very low.

“It’s been around for so long, there’s been a lot of research,” Kelly said. “It’s a very safe, effective dental product.”

The sealant makes the surface of the tooth smooth and flat, keeping out food and germs and making it easier to clean, she said. Dental hygienists also say children should get their teeth professionally cleaned and checked twice a year; brush them thoroughly twice a day; avoid chewing sugary gum or sticky candy; and use a toothpaste containing fluoride. Some children may also get fluoride treatments at the dentist, especially if their regular water supply doesn’t contain fluoride. (Knox County’s does, but it’s absent from some surrounding counties.)

This is the second year the health department has offered the summer sealant program; last summer, about 250 got sealants, Kelly said. During the school year, it’s part of a free dental program offered at many Knox County elementary and middle schools where half or more students are eligible for free or reduced lunches. About half of those students get dental services, which require parental permission, Kelly said.

The summer program is designed to help older children or young adults whose teeth haven’t been sealed, she said, as well as children in schools where the program isn’t offered. Kelly said dental sealants typically last five to 10 years.

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Caption under photo:
Ron Hedges, service technician for Patterson Dental, installs digital equipment, bought with a grant from Delta Dental, this past fall at Interfaith Health Clinic’s dental clinic. Next month, Knox County Health Department will offer free sealants to children and young adults, regardless of income, by appointment.