Dental sealants; invisible teeth coatings resistant to decay
The most likely location for a cavity to develop in your child's mouth is on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Run your tongue over this area in your mouth, and you will feel the reason why: These surfaces are not smooth, as other areas of your teeth are. Instead, they are filled with tiny grooves referred to as “pits and fissures,” which trap bacteria and food particles. The bristles on a toothbrush can't always reach all the way into these dark, moist little crevices. This creates the perfect conditions for tooth decay.
What's more, a child's newly erupted permanent teeth are not as resistant to decay as adult teeth are. The hard enamel coating that protects the teeth changes as it ages to become stronger. Fluoride, which is found in toothpaste and some drinking water — and in treatments we use here at the dental office — can strengthen enamel, but, again, it's hard to get fluoride into those pits and fissures on a regular basis. Fortunately, there is a good solution to this problem: dental sealants.
Dental sealants are invisible plastic resin coatings that smooth out the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, making them resistant to decay. A sealed tooth is far less likely to develop a cavity, require more expensive dental treatment later on, or, most importantly, cause your child pain.
Who needs dental sealants?
The chewing surfaces of the molar and premolar teeth have grooves — "fissures" — that make them vulnerable to decay. These fissures can be deep, are difficult to clean, and can be narrower than even a single bristle of a toothbrush. Plaque accumulates in these areas, and the acid from bacteria in the plaque attacks the enamel and cavities can develop. Fluoride helps prevent decay and helps protect all the surfaces of the teeth, dental sealants provide extra protection for the grooved and pitted areas by providing a smooth surface covering over the fissured area.
Dental sealants are primarily used for children aged 6-14 to protect their permanent teeth from developing cavities early on. In some cases, dental sealants may also be recommended for younger children in order to protect their baby teeth from being lost too soon. However, dental sealants can only be applied to the teeth once the chewing surface has completely eroded past the gum line.
How Sealants Are Placed
You can think of a sealant as a mini plastic filling, though please reassure your child that it doesn't “count” as having a cavity filled. Because tooth enamel does not contain any nerves, placing a sealant is painless and does not routinely require numbing shots. First we will examine the tooth or teeth to be sealed, and if any minimal decay is found, it will be gently removed. The tooth will then be cleaned and dried. Then we will apply a solution that will slightly roughen or “etch” the surface, to make the sealing material adhere better. The tooth is then rinsed and dried again. The sealant is then painted on the tooth in liquid form and hardens in about a minute, sometimes with the help of a special curing light. That's all there is to it!
Taking Care of Sealants
Sealed teeth require the same conscientious dental hygiene as unsealed teeth. Your child should continue to brush and floss his or her teeth daily and visit us for regular professional cleanings. This will give us a chance to check for wear and tear on the sealants, which should last for up to 10 years. During this time, your child will benefit from a preventive treatment proven to reduce decay by more than 70 percent.
What are dental sealants made of?
Dental sealants are made from an invisible plastic resin or glass ionomer coating. Glass ionomer is rarely used for dental sealants unless the tooth requires more moisture control, and the majority of dental sealants use plastic resin. Dental sealants made from plastic resin can contain a very tiny amount of BPA derivatives, which are different from pure BPA. However, the amount of BPA derivatives used in dental sealants is so minimal that it will not cause any harm to your child.
What do dental sealants look like?
There are different variations of dental sealants that appear clear, white, or slightly tinted to match a certain tooth color. Most dentists opt for the clear dental sealant because it does not alter the appearance of the teeth in any way and simply provides an invisible protective shield.
Can dental sealants be removed?
Dental sealants can be removed, however they are generally only removed if they are showing signs of excessive wear or if they have become damaged in some way. The removal of a dental sealant is usually followed by a replacement of that dental sealant.
Can dental sealants be placed over cavities?
Yes, dental sealants can be placed over cavities to prevent further damage from occurring. In fact, dental sealants are less expensive, less painful, and easier to apply than fillings. However, there may be cases when this is not always the case. Dentists will help you to decide what the best option is for your child.
Do dental sealants taste bad?
During the application process and immediately after, your child may notice a bad taste in their mouth. Experiencing a bad taste is a common occurrence with resin-based dental sealants and should fade with a few rinses. After about an hour following the placement of a dental sealant, the bad taste should fade and the dental sealant should become tasteless.
Do dental sealants hurt?
Dental sealants only need to be brushed onto the teeth and do not cause pain. The only discomfort that may be felt while getting dental sealants is your child having to hold their mouth open for a few minutes. Once the procedure is complete, your child may be vaguely aware that there is an extra layer on their teeth, but they will quickly get used to it and it should cause no issues.
How long do dental sealants last?
Dental sealants can last up to ten years, however they will need to be regularly checked for signs of wear. If extensive wear is found, the dental sealant may need to be replaced. It is important to regularly have your dentists check your child’s dental sealants to make sure the sealant is working as intended. When dental sealants wear down, they can chip or break and bacteria can get caught underneath them, causing decay. Regular dental checkups(link with dental checkups) allow your dentists to prevent this from occurring or from escalating.
Are Dental Sealants Just for Children?
Since children may not always brush their teeth properly, they may be more likely to get cavities. For this reason, dental sealants are often recommended for children. Generally, sealants are applied to a child’s adult molars as soon as they come in around age six. In some cases, dentists may even recommend sealants for baby teeth if the child is prone to decay.
But adults may be candidates for dental sealants too. Some people are more cavity-prone than others, so sealants may be an option worth considering. No matter what the age, it is good to know the pros and cons of sealants.
Are Dental Sealants Safe?
Especially when considering a procedure for children, safety is always a concern. When talking about the pros and cons of sealants, the subject of BPA is sometimes raised. BPA is a synthetic compound found in many plastics. Studies have shown that exposure to large amounts can be harmful.
Since sealants are made of plastic and may contain trace amounts of BPA, they are sometimes thought to be unsafe. But the amounts of BPA in sealants are tiny. Research by The American Dental Association shows that the amounts are well below anything that could be harmful. In fact, people are exposed to more BPA in their day-to-day lives than they are through sealants.
Are Sealants the Right Choice?
Before deciding if dental sealants are right for you or your child, you will want to weigh these pros and cons.
If someone is at low risk of tooth decay, they may not have a need for sealants. This would include people with good diets and exceptional oral hygiene. And some people have relatively smooth teeth, with shallow grooves. Food particles are easily brushed away and they’re not prone to cavities.
For many, though, the minimal cost and discomfort is an effective alternative to the possibility of cavities down the road.
Do I still need to use fluoride if I have dental sealants?
Yes. Dental sealants only protect the surface area that they are placed on. Fluoride helps protect all the surfaces of the tooth from decay and cavities.
Are dental sealants only placed on the chewing surface of molar and
premolar permanent teeth?
Dental sealants are usually placed on the chewing surfaces of these teeth because these are the areas and teeth that typically have deep fissures. Dental sealants are sometimes also used on other permanent teeth if they have grooves or pits, to help protect these surfaces. In some children, the molars in the primary dentition (baby teeth) also have grooves that could benefit from dental sealants and in this situation your dentist or hygienist may recommend dental sealants on the chewing surfaces of these primary teeth.
Are Sealants Expensive?
Cost is another important issue when deciding on the pros and cons of sealants. Some dental insurance plans cover them for children. Even if you are paying out of pocket, getting dental sealants is usually less expensive than getting a filling. And if you have multiple cavities over time, those costs can add up. You may decide that a one-time application of a sealant is more cost-effective alternative.