Family DentistDental sealants prevent cavities by providing a barrier against food debris and bacteria that cause plaque and tartar. Sealants are most commonly applied to the back teeth (premolars and molars), which are more at risk of decay because they have deep grooves that a toothbrush cannot reach.

Although fluoride treatment is a major weapon in the fight against tooth decay, it only works on the smooth surfaces of teeth. Sealants are most effective in protecting teeth fissures. Sealants are typically regarded as a treatment for children and teens but they can also help adults for the simple reason that everyone is vulnerable to tooth decay, regardless of age.

Dental sealants come in the form of a plastic resin that’s painted onto the chewing surfaces of back teeth. This liquid quickly hardens and bonds with the deep grooves of the tooth. The procedure is painless, requiring no anesthesia or drilling.

Sealants were introduced in the 1960s after research by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) and other organizations showed they were safe and effective.

Sealants Improve Oral Health and Save Time and Money

One of the benefits of getting sealants is a financial one. Sealants provide a cost-effective means of maintaining oral health because they avoid the need for more expensive crowns or root canals in the future. The protection afforded by sealants usually lasts for years.

Other benefits of getting sealants are:

Improved oral health. Cavities can quickly result in more serious oral health issues. Even if you have a cavity filled, the strength of the tooth is compromised. Sealants improve the overall long-term health of your teeth and gums.

A simple solution that works. Sealants can be applied quickly, causing no discomfort during or after the procedure, and they are long-lasting.

Convenience. Sealants mean fewer trips to the dentist in the future – your sealed teeth won’t need work like fillings.

The Dental Sealant Treatment Process

There are three stages in the sealant process:

  1. Tooth preparation. The tooth is cleaned to remove food debris and plaque from the fissure surfaces. Then the tooth is etched to provide better adhesion for the sealant.
  2. Sealant application. The dental sealant material is applied to the surface of the tooth with a brush. A self-curing light is then used to bond the sealant to the tooth surface.
  3. Evaluation. Your dentist checks that your treated tooth is functioning properly in relation to other teeth. Finally, the sealant material hardens into a robust plastic coating.

How Sealants Benefit Children

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), sealants reduce tooth decay by 86 percent in the first year and 58 percent after four years.

Sealants are typically applied as a preventive measure against cavities when a child’s permanent teeth emerge. In some cases, sealants can be used on baby (primary) teeth with deep grooves and pits. Baby teeth reserve space for permanent teeth so they need to be kept healthy so they don’t fall out too soon or have to be extracted.

Children’s teeth are more vulnerable to decay because as they grow new teeth, it takes three years for the protective layer of enamel to fully develop. Young children often find brushing and flossing difficult tasks to master and this poses a further risk of cavities. Besides providing a shield against bacteria, sealants make it easier for children to clean their teeth effectively.

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research says youngsters should get sealants as soon as their permanent (adult) molars erupt through the gums – before bacteria have a chance to attack the teeth. The first adult molars are called six-year molars because they emerge from the ages of five to seven. The second adult molars – 12-year molars – grow in from 11 to 14.

Teenagers and young adults who are particularly vulnerable to cavities may also need sealants.

How Sealants Benefit Adults

No matter how diligent you are with your routine of oral hygiene, you can still get cavities at any age. Some adults are simply more at risk of tooth decay than others, and sealants provide an effective preventive measure for these people.

You may have too many aggressive bacteria in your mouth, and other oral issues like gum disease and gum recession can lead to tooth decay. Another cause of cavities is dry mouth – saliva is vital to neutralize acids in the mouth and flush out bacteria.

Anxiety can indirectly result in tooth decay because it may cause a dry mouth or create a yearning for unhealthy foods. What you eat is key in whether you get tooth decay. Consuming too many sugar-rich snacks and drinks will invariably result in bacteria eroding tooth enamel.

A poor diet can also lead to acid reflux, which can result in cavities when stomach acid floods your mouth, and it can be harder to brush and floss properly if you wear an oral appliance. Some medicines – including drugs to counter anxiety – can make an individual more vulnerable to developing cavities.

Without treatment, a cavity will get bigger and impact deeper layers of the tooth. This can cause infection, severe toothache and eventually loss of the tooth.

A Vital Role in Preventive Dentistry

Sealants play a major role in preventive dental maintenance. Spending a relatively low amount of money on sealants ensures you won't need costly procedures further down the road.

The many nooks and crannies of your back teeth make them particularly susceptible to decay because they’re a magnet for particles of food and are more difficult to clean than front teeth. Dental sealants can protect these teeth against cavities by sealing off the crevices and furrows that tend to trap bits of food while safeguarding enamel from plaque and acid attack.

If you’re considering sealants for yourself and/or your children, look for a family-friendly dental office with a strong focus on preventive dentistry.