The fact is, kids usually aren’t great at brushing their teeth despite the best efforts of parents and dental professionals alike. This isn’t anyone’s fault: it’s an awkward, uncomfortable motion that can be difficult for children to do well and certainly something kids won’t think about doing on their own! Sealants can help protect your child’s teeth from cavities in ways that even the most thorough brushing can’t always accomplish. How do they work, and can adults benefit from them, too? Let’s take a look.
What is a dental sealant?
A dental sealant is a thin coating of plastic that covers the chewing (occlusal) surface of the molars and premolars. It seals off all the pits and fissures at the top of these teeth—some of which can be very deep and more narrow than a single toothbrush bristle—and prevents food and beverage reside from getting stuck, breaking down, and causing cavities and tooth decay.
The reason molars and premolars get this treatment instead of, say, the incisors, is because they’re really the only teeth with the kinds of pits and fissures that can trap food even exemplary brushing can leave behind. In addition, these are the teeth that are often most difficult for children to reach and therefore clean thoroughly. Brushing can be an awkward and uncomfortable motion for children still developing their fine motor skills, and it can be uncomfortable to reach all the way in the back of their mouths to thoroughly clean the molars. Sealants, therefore, provide an extra layer of protection by preventing food from sticking in the first place.
When should sealants be applied?
Sealants are usually applied when the adult molars and premolars emerge, around 6 and 12 years of age, though this can vary from child to child. Sealants aren’t usually applied to baby teeth because they’ll eventually fall out, but it’s also important to remember that the health of the baby teeth can have a dramatic impact on the health of the adult teeth. If there have already been cavities in the baby teeth, it might be a good idea to seal them to help ensure they don’t fall out too early and encourages healthy, timely development of the adult teeth.
Adults don’t often have their teeth sealed, often because we can brush and floss more effectively than children. However, it can still be difficult for an adult who has a perfect oral hygiene routine to prevent food from getting lodged in hard-to-reach areas, resulting in a cavity. If you’ve found yourself particularly prone to cavities and tooth decay despite your best efforts, having your teeth sealed can be a good option to help improve and protect the health of your molars.
Some patients worry that the BPA in dental sealants can be harmful to your overall health. However, the American Dental Association has thoroughly studied this matter and have concluded that the incredibly minute amount of BPA in sealants is not enough to do any harm—and, in fact, is far less of an exposure risk than many common substances you use every day, like makeup and some foods and drinks.
How are sealants applied?
Fortunately for adults and children alike, applying the sealant is quick, easy, and completely painless. The steps are:
1. The teeth are cleaned and dried. Cotton is placed around the teeth to keep them dry through the next step of the process.
2. An acidic solution, often a gel, is applied to the chewing surface of the tooth. This makes the surface a bit rougher, which will help the sealant adhere.
3. The tooth is rinsed and dried again, and fresh cotton is placed around the tooth to keep it dry in the next step.
4. The sealant is painted directly onto the tooth enamel, completely covering the bite surface and the crown of the tooth. The enamel then hardens on its own after a few minutes, or a special curing light is used to harden the substance.
That’s it! Couldn’t be easier, right?
The sealant will last for up to about 10 years, but it may wear down in places over time. Your dentist should examine your sealant at every checkup and touch up any spots that may have worn away. Overall, the American Dental Association has found that sealants can greatly prevent the risk of decay and even the spread of existing decay, which is important for adult and children alike. And, while it’s important to remember that it’s no substitution for brushing, flossing, and fluoride treatments, sealants can play an integral part alongside a good oral hygiene routine to keep your smile healthy for years to come.