Variation in General Dentists' Patterns of Sealant Use in Children with Elevated Caries Risk
Strong evidence supports use of dental sealants to prevent tooth decay, and professional guidelines recommend use in children with elevated caries risk. However, not all children indicated for sealants receive this preventive intervention, even when they use routine dental care.
The aim of this study was to explore the extent to which dentists’ use of sealants varied in pediatric patients with elevated caries risk.
Claims and enrollment data from a private dental program were used to identify a cohort of 6- to 17-y-olds with elevated caries risk (N = 27,677) and general dentists (N = 818) who provided services to the children. Children were identified as having elevated caries risk based on history of restorative treatment over a 5-y period (2010–2014). The 2 outcomes of interest were whether a dentist provided any sealants to children with elevated risk and, if so, the extent to which these were used during a 2-y observation period (2013–2014). A 2-stage hurdle model was used for multivariable analysis to identify dentist characteristics associated with sealant use.
Over the observation period, 13.3% (n = 109) of dentists did not provide any sealants to their elevated risk patients from the study cohort. Logistic regression found that female dentists were significantly more likely to have used sealants (odds ratio = 2.27); dentist age and practice in an isolated small rural town were negatively associated with any sealant use. However, among dentists who did place sealants (n = 709), female dentists, older dentists, dentists in solo practice, and those working full-time were significantly more likely to provide sealants to a child. Overall, substantial variation in practitioners’ use of sealants was observed.
This is the first study to explore provider-level variation in sealant use, representing a critical step in future efforts to increase routine use of sealants by dentists and eliminate oral health disparities.