Dental sealants are an important tool in preventing childhood caries (cavities) and tooth decay. Especially when used in combination with other preventative measures, like biannual checkups and an excellent daily home care routine, sealants can bolster the mouth’s natural defenses, and keep smiles healthy.
How do sealants protect children’s teeth?
In general, dental sealants are used to protect molars from oral bacteria and harmful oral acids. These larger, flatter teeth reside toward the back of the mouth and can be difficult to clean. Decay-causing bacteria often inhabit the nooks and crannies (pits and fissures) found on the chewing surfaces of the molars. These areas are extremely difficult to access with a regular toothbrush.
If the dentist evaluates a child to be at high risk for tooth decay, he or she may choose to coat additional teeth (for example, bicuspid teeth). The sealant acts as a barrier, ensuring that food particles and oral bacteria cannot access vulnerable tooth enamel.
Dental sealants do not enhance the health of the teeth directly, and should not be used as a substitute for good home care and regular dental visits including fluoride treatments. In general however, sealants are less costly, less uncomfortable, and more aesthetically pleasing than dental fillings.
How are sealants applied?
Sealants are applied by your dentist, dental assistant or dental hygienist and the process takes only a couple of minutes per tooth.
The teeth to be sealed are thoroughly cleaned and then surrounded with cotton to keep the area dry. A special solution is applied to the enamel surface to help the sealant bond to the teeth. The teeth are then rinsed and dried. Sealant material is carefully painted onto the enamel surface to cover the deep grooves or depressions. The material is then hardened with a special curing light.
It should be noted that the sealant procedure is easily completed in one office visit, and is entirely painless.
When should sealants be applied?
Sealants are usually applied when the permanent molars first emerge. If the child is more susceptible to cavities, has poor home care or the primary teeth have very deep grooves, it may be beneficial to place sealants on primary molars as well. Depending on the oral habits of the child, the sealants may last for many years, or need replacing several times. Essentially, sealant durability depends on the oral habits of the individual child.
The health of the sealant must be monitored at biannual appointments. If the seal begins to lift off, food particles may become trapped against the tooth enamel, actually causing tooth decay.
Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about dental sealants.