SEALANTS – DEFENDING YOUR CHILD’S TEETH AGAINST DECAY
Q: What are sealants?
A: Sealants are made of a clear, acrylic-like material that shields the chewing surfaces of teeth from decay-causing bacteria. For children, it’s recommended that primary (baby) molars have sealants applied by age four and permanent first molars have sealants applied by age seven. Premolars and permanent second molars that erupt before the mid-teens should also be sealed for optimal protection during the most cavity-prone years.
Q: What do dental sealants look like?
A: Dental sealants can be clear, white or have a slight tint depending upon the dental sealant used.
Q: Are sealants and fluoride the same thing?
A: No. While both materials preserve and prolong oral health through decay prevention, they function very differently. Remember that sealants are only applied to certain areas of particular teeth. Fluoride can be used from infancy through adolescence and can be supplied in many forms, including as a gel or varnish, as a prescribed nutritional supplement, and as an ingredient in toothpaste and commercial mouth rinses.
Q: How do sealants prevent decay?
A: Thorough brushing and flossing help remove food particles and plaque from the smooth surfaces of teeth, but toothbrushes can’t reach all the way into the depressions and grooves to extract all food and plaque. While fluoride helps prevent decay and helps protect all the surfaces of the teeth, dental sealants add extra protection for the grooved and pitted areas. Sealants form a protective barrier that covers the pits and fissures (depressions and grooves) of the back teeth. Sealants bond to the chewing surface of the back teeth.
Q: Should sealants be used on all teeth?
A: No. Sealants are best suited for primary and permanent molars, as well as permanent premolars, that have no signs of detectable decay.
Q: How are sealants applied?
A: Firstly the tooth surface is thoroughly cleaned with a paste and rotating brush by your dentist or hygienist. Next, the tooth is washed with water and dried. Then a solution that is acidic is placed on the fissured area of the tooth’s chewing surface for some seconds before being rinsed off. This creates small microscopic regions and a fine rougher surface than the surrounding tooth enamel, which can be seen with a microscope. The rough surface and microscopic areas enable the dental sealant to attach to the tooth. After the tooth is dried again, the liquid dental sealant is placed on the tooth and hardened. Dental sealants are set by using a light that hardens the dental sealant, or sometimes by using a two-component dental sealant that sets without using light. Once the dental sealant has hardened it becomes a hard plastic varnish coating, and you can chew on the tooth again.
Q: What is the cost of sealants?
A: Covered by dental insurance for certain ages; sealants offer a very affordable treatment choice. They are a valuable investment, however, even when not covered by insurance. Sealants help prevent decay and cavities that are costly to treat. The longer teeth can be kept cavity-free, the healthier they will be in the long term.
Q: Once sealants have been applied to the teeth, how should they be maintained?
A: While the sealant material is quite durable, the following activities can negatively affect sealants:
- Chewing on ice cubes, hard candy or sticky foods.
- Consuming sugary foods, which produce an acid attack on teeth, causing erosion.
Provide children better snack alternatives such as peanut butter, fresh vegetables (carrot sticks or celery stalks), fruit (unpeeled apples, orange sections, bananas, grapes, or raisins), yogurt, dry cereal, sugar-free granola, cheese and sugar-free popsicles.
Q: How long do sealants last?
A: Sealants last some years, depending on the person’s chewing pattern. Sealants are temporary, which makes on-going six-month checkups with our office necessary. If a sealant has chipped, it can be repaired to make sure there are no exposed grooves to the oral environment.
Q: If a child has sealants, are brushing and flossing still important?
A: Absolutely! Regular dental visits, brushing, and flossing is necessary to maintain healthy smiles. Sealants are only one step in the overall maintenance plan to keep the mouth cavity-free for a lifetime.