What are Sealants?
Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, where most cavities in children are found. When the cavity-causing bacteria that live in everyone’s mouth meet leftover food particles, they produce acids that can create holes in teeth (cavities). Sealants protect the chewing surfaces from cavities by filling in the crevasses on the chewing surfaces of the teeth, covering them with a protective shield that blocks out germs and food. Some of these crevasses can be deep, are difficult to clean, and can be narrower than even a single bristle of a toothbrush. In cases where small cavities are present, a sealant can cease the spread of decay, because it is sealed off from its food and germ supply.
Why Are Sealants Important for my Child?
The most important reason for getting sealants is to avoid tooth decay. Dental sealants can prevent cavities for many years and have been shown to reduce the risk of decay by nearly 80% in molars. According to a study released by the Centers for Disease Control, “school-age children without sealants have almost three times more cavities than children with sealants.” Having sealants put on teeth before they decay will also save time and money in the long run by avoiding fillings, crowns, or caps used to fix decayed teeth.
How are Sealants Different from Fluoride in Protecting Teeth?
Sealants and fluoride both prevent tooth decay, but in different ways. Fluoride in toothpaste and in drinking water protects the smooth surfaces of teeth but back teeth need extra protection. Sealants keep germs and food out of the grooves in the back teeth by covering them with a safe protective shield. Fluoride in drinking water and dental products, such as toothpaste, protects against cavities by making teeth stronger. Sealants and fluoride together can prevent almost all tooth decay.
When and How are Sealants Applied?
Sealants prevent the most cavities when applied soon after your child’s permanent molars come in (around age 6 for first molars and age 12 for second molars). Because of the likelihood of developing decay in the depressions and grooves of the premolars and molars, children and teenagers are the most likely candidates for sealants.
In some instances, sealants may be recommended for other teeth, including baby teeth, if they have deep pits and grooves. Because baby teeth save space for permanent teeth, it is important to keep them healthy, so they don’t fall out early. Talk to your pediatric dentist, as each child is unique.
Sealants are put on in dentists’ offices, clinics, and sometimes in schools. Getting sealants put on is simple, fast, painless, and takes only one visit. First, the tooth is cleaned, and a gel may be placed on the chewing surface for a few seconds. The tooth is then rinsed and dried. Finally, the sealant is flowed onto the grooves of the tooth and allowed to harden or hardened with a special light. Your child will be able to eat right after the appointment.
How Long do Sealants Last?
Research shows that sealants can last up to 10 years if properly cared for. Good oral hygiene and avoiding biting hard objects will make them last longer. Your pediatric dentist will check the sealants during routine dental visits and recommend re-application or repair when necessary.
Are Sealants Safe?
There has been some concern expressed about the potential exposure to BPA in dental sealants. According to research from the American Dental Association (ADA), BPA is rarely used in dental products. However, some composite resins used in dental materials might contain tiny amounts of BPA, and trace amounts of BPA used in the production of other ingredients used in dental composites and sealants could find their way into sealants. Considering the very small amounts of BPA involved, the ADA found no basis for a health concern.
In fact, sealants have been used for over 5 decades to prevent and control cavities on primary and permanent teeth. Studies by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and others led to the development of dental sealants and showed that they are safe and effective.
Research published by the ADA shows that a 6-year-old child is exposed to more BPA from food; drinks; sunscreen, shampoo, body wash and other cosmetics; and air and thermal paper (such as cash register receipts) than from the amount that is in dental sealants. It is widely agreed that the long-term benefits of sealants far outweigh the risks.
Does my Dental Plan Cover Sealants?
Some health insurance programs pay for sealants. Check with your state Medicaid program or your insurance company for details. Our staff at Capital City Pediatric Dentistry can also help you determine if sealants are covered by your plan.
What Should I Do Now?
Dental sealants are essential in preventing tooth decay and play an important role in maintaining your child’s healthy smile. Contact us at Capital City Pediatric Dentistry to ask Dr. Robin Croswell if sealants are a good option for you and your family.
Sources: AAPD, CDC, WebMD, Colgate, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research