ATLANTA - More than half of Georgia third-graders have dental decay, according to a 2001 study, and about 20% haven't been treated for it.
But a school-based sealant program headed up by the Georgia Department of Public Health is working to protect children from cavities.
At Georgia State Perimeter College, about two dozen kids are on a school field trip with a mission,
These are children that come from a local school, says Cherie Rainwater, who heads up Georgia State Perimeter's dental hygiene program. "We have first, second and third graders."
The dental hygiene students here are coating chewing surface of the children's back teeth with a painless protective coating known as a dental sealant.
"It's a plastic material that we place on healthy teeth to prevent dental decay," explains Jorge Bernal, who runs Georgia's school-Based Sealant Program.
"We tell them it's very much like painting fingernail polish on your fingernails," says Cherie Rainwater. "Because that's what we're doing. We're painting the tooth and sealing it with a light."
For the last few years, the Georgia Department of Public Health's School-based Dental Sealant Program has been working to protect children from cavities, especially those in lower income communities where children may not have easy access to private dental care.
The state has 60 school-based sealant programs in 9 districts.
"When children have decay, especially on those anterior teeth, those front teeth, they won't smile," says Rainwater. "They won't interact with other children."
CDC research shows the sealants could prevent 80% of cavities in school-age children.
But more than half of U.S. kids aren't getting being treated.
That's something Georgia health officials are working to correct.
The program sends dental teams into schools to reach kids where they are. The sealant drives are typically planned months in advance, and parents are asked for their consent before students are treated.
Rainwater says a little prevention will go a long way.
"And a lot of children miss school because of decay," she says. "And they go to emergency rooms and so forth, so if we can do as much prevention as possible, then that is a good thing. "