What Are Sealants?

Dental sealants are a coating that the dentist puts on the grooves of your child’s back teeth to protect them.

When the first adult molars come out in your child’s mouth around age 6, most parents do not realize their children had those molars.

Why? Because those first adult molars usually come out at the back, behind the baby teeth in your child’s mouth; therefore, not replacing any baby tooth.

The most likely location for a cavity to develop in your child’s mouth is on the chewing surfaces of those back teeth. Run your tongue over this area in your mouth, and you will feel the reason why: these surfaces are not smooth, as other areas of your teeth are. Instead, they are filled with tiny grooves referred to as “pits and fissures,” which trap bacteria and food particles. The bristles on a toothbrush can’t always reach all the way into these dark, moist little crevices. This creates the perfect conditions for tooth decay.

What’s more, a child’s newly erupted permanent teeth are not as resistant to decay as adult teeth are. The hard enamel coating that protects the teeth changes as it ages to become stronger. Fluoride, which is found in toothpaste and some drinking water — and in treatments provided at your dental office — can strengthen enamel, but, again, it’s hard to get fluoride into those pits and fissures on a regular basis.

Sealants Work

Fortunately, there is a good solution to this problem: dental sealants.

Dental sealants are invisible plastic resin coatings that smooth out the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, making them resistant to decay. A sealed tooth is far less likely to develop a cavity, which can require more expensive dental treatment later, and most importantly, cause your child pain.

“Sealants on permanent molars reduce the risk of cavities by 80%.

–Journal of the American Dental Association

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How Sealants Are Placed

Placing sealants on the teeth is a very simple and painless procedure your dentist can perform in a few minutes.

Think of a sealant as a mini plastic filling. First, the tooth or teeth to be sealed are examined, and if any minimal decay is found, it will be gently removed. The tooth will then be cleaned and dried. Then a solution that will slightly roughen or “etch” the surface is applied, to make the sealing material adhere better. The tooth is then rinsed and dried again. The sealant is then painted on the tooth in liquid form and hardens in about a minute, sometimes with the help of a special curing light. That’s all there is to it!

Taking Care of Sealants

Sealed teeth require the same conscientious dental hygiene as unsealed teeth. Your child should continue to brush and floss his or her teeth daily and have regular professional cleanings. Checking for wear and tear on the sealants is important, though they should last for up to 10 years. During this time, your child will benefit from a preventive treatment proven to reduce decay by 80%.

While the incidence of cavities in children remains quite high, preventing cavities is always better than treating them, and it’s also much cheaper!