What Are Dental Sealants?
Dental sealants are a method of tooth protection available to patients of all ages but most useful early in life, right about the time that children’s molars start to come in. This simple preventative treatment is quick and painless and has been shown to reduce the chance of tooth decay by over 70 percent.
Why Do Children Need Sealants?
Generally speaking, effective tooth brushing and flossing are enough to keep teeth clear of small bits of debris, but it can be a little tougher when it comes to the rough, pitted back teeth most often used for chewing. The surfaces of these teeth are more likely to collect debris that can’t easily be dislodged by a toothbrush’s bristles.
Sealants work by creating an artificial barrier of plastic resin on top of a tooth. The barrier seals closely enough to the tooth to bond into any grooves and fissures, thereby keeping plaque, acids, and tiny bits of food from getting stuck in the tooth’s small crevices. This, in turn, decreases the chances of tooth decay.
Fortunately, this is a painless process that doesn’t usually require numbing or sedation, as the enamel of a tooth doesn’t have any nerves in it. The sealant process generally involves cleaning any existing decay from a tooth, drying the tooth, and then applying a solution that primes it for the sealant. Once the solution has done its work, the actual application of the sealant itself takes only a few minutes.
If you’re trying to come up with an analogy to explain the process to an anxious child, you might say the whole process is something like putting a raincoat on a tooth — it helps keep the tooth safe from its environment.
When Do Children Need Sealants?
While sealants are sometimes placed on teeth that are already experiencing mild levels of decay, sealants aren’t meant to solve existing tooth issues so much as they’re meant to head off issues in the future. Cavities caused by tooth decay can be quite painful, which is unpleasant enough. That pain can also indirectly manifest in development problems if it causes issues with speaking, eating, sleeping, and paying attention in class.
The best time to apply sealants is around the same time that kids develop their permanent molars. These teeth come in at about age 6 and age 12. According to the CDC, studies have found that kids between ages 6 and 11 who did not get sealant treatments after their first molars come in experienced approximately three times more first-molar cavities than children who received sealant treatments.
How Long Do Sealants Last?
Sealants are strong enough to last for several years through regular chewing; in some cases, they might last up to 10 years. Your child’s dentist can check the status of their sealants when they come in for regular checkups and reapply them if required.
That said, just getting a sealant treatment doesn’t mean you or your child should stop observing good dental hygiene habits. Brushing twice a day, flossing daily, limiting sugary snacks, and seeing your dentist regularly are all effective ways to keep those teeth in tip-top shape.
To learn if dental sealants are right for your child, schedule a dental appointment with our children’s dental office today.