Regular brushing and flossing comprise the foundation of good oral hygiene. But when cavity prevention is the specific goal, additional preventive steps may be necessary – especially for children, who often are unable to brush and floss thoroughly. And not even a diligent adult can always depend upon their brushing skills since toothbrush bristles cannot reach all the way into the depressions and grooves of back teeth (molars and premolars) to extract food and plaque.
As an article by Colgate explains, “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.”
What are Dental Sealants and Their Advantages?
While dentists recommend fluoride to prevent decay, dental sealants provide extra protection for the grooved and pitted areas by providing a smooth surface covering over the fissured areas. Dental sealants are made of a plastic resin that bonds into the pits and fissures of the chewing surfaces on the back teeth, acting as a barrier to protect enamel from plaque and acids. It can be clear, white, or have a slight tint, depending upon the type of dental sealant. This proven treatment has been used for over 40 years as a safe, effective way to prevent cavities.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), children and adults can benefit from sealants, but the earlier you get them, the better. The first molars appear at around age 6, and second molars break through around age 12. Sealing these teeth as soon as they come through can keep them cavity-free from the start.
The ADA reports that sealants have been shown to reduce the risk of decay by nearly 80% in molars. This is especially important when it comes to your child’s dental health. In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report on the importance of sealants for school-aged children, of which only 43% of children ages 6-11 have. According to the CDC, “… school-age children without sealants have almost three times more cavities than children with sealants.”
While dental sealants give children a good start on healthy teeth for a lifetime, they also can benefit adults. As mentioned earlier, brushing and flossing alone don’t always reach the food particles that promote bacteria growth – which in turn, promote decay and plaque. Adults with weak tooth enamel caused by certain medications or the wear-and-tear that occurs over time are more susceptible to experiencing cavities, as well.
The CDC reports that dental sealants can last up to nine years. However, they were shown to prevent 80 percent of cavities for two years after application, with 50 percent protection for up to four years. Of course, your dentist will evaluate the condition of your (or your child’s) dental sealants during each twice-yearly examination, and will advise you when they need to be reapplied.
How Are Dental Sealants Applied?
Sealants only take a few minutes to apply to each tooth, and the non-invasive process is simple and painless. The basic application steps are as follow:
- The teeth that are to be sealed are thoroughly cleaned.
- Each tooth is then dried, and cotton or another absorbent material is put around the tooth to keep it dry.
- An etching solution is put on the chewing surfaces of the teeth to roughen them, which helps the sealant bond to the teeth.
- The teeth are rinsed and dried.
- Sealant is then painted onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. Sometimes a special curing light is used to help the sealant harden.
The sealant is applied in one visit. You (or your child) can eat and drink immediately after treatment.
The Take-Home Message
Dental sealants are a proven, effective cavity prevention treatment for children and adults. When used to reinforce good oral hygiene habits, they can be a valuable long-term way to protect your teeth – and your child’s teeth – from decay.
At NK Family Dental, it is our mission to provide the highest quality and most compassionate oral care to our Chicago patients, including both dental and periodontal services. Our dental specialists include our general dentist, Dr. Nilofer Khan, our periodontist, Dr. Amir Danesh, and our endodontist, Dr. Sabek.
We understand that the main concern you may have is cost, which is why we accept all major PPO plans for dental insurance and also offer our in-house dental plan. Please see our financing page for more information.