Dental Sealants

Tooth decay has become increasingly prevalent in preschoolers. Not only is tooth decay unpleasant and painful, it can also lead to more serious problems like premature tooth loss and childhood periodontal disease. 

Dental sealants are an important tool in preventing childhood caries (cavities) and tooth decay. Sealants when used in combination with other preventative measures, like biannual checkups and an excellent daily home care routine, 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. Molars mark the site of four out of five instances of tooth decay. Decay causing bacteria often inhabit the nooks and crannies (pits and fissures) found on the chewing surfaces of the molars. These areas can be extremely difficult to access with a regular toothbrush. 

If a dentist evaluates a child to be at high risk for tooth decay, he or she may choose to place dental sealants on specific 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 they should not be used as a substitute for fluoride supplements or general oral care. In general however, sealants are less costly, less uncomfortable, and more aesthetically pleasing than dental fillings. 

How are sealants applied? 

Though there are many different types of dental sealants, most are comprised of a liquid plastic which is hardened after being placed on the tooth. The teeth must be thoroughly cleaned and prepared before painting the sealant on the targeted tooth. Some sealants are bright pink when placed and become clear or white when set. This bright pink coloring enables the dentist to see that all pits and fissures have been thoroughly coated. 

When the targeted tooth is coated to the dentist’s satisfaction, the sealant is either left to self-harden or exposed to a blue spectrum natural light for several seconds. This specialized light works to harden and cure the sealant. The final result is a clear or white layer of thin, hard, durable sealant. 

It should be noted that the “sealing” procedure is easily completed in one office visit, and is entirely painless as the procedure does not require local anesthetic. 

When should sealants be applied? 

Dental sealants can be applied when the primary (baby) molars first emerge. Depending on the oral habits of the child and the coarseness of the diet, sealants may last for the life of the primary tooth, or may need replacing if they are worn off. Sealant durability depends on each individual child. 

Dentists recommend that permanent molars be sealed as soon as they emerge. In some cases, sealants can be applied before the permanent molar has completely erupted. 

The health of the sealant must be monitored at biannual appointments. If the sealant begins to lift off or has been worn off, the sealant may need to be replaced. 

If you have questions or concerns about dental sealants, please contact our office.