Dental Sealants: The Key to Locking Out Tooth Decay
by Dr Richard Barry
When you leave your home, what do you do? You probably lock the doors. When you leave your car to go shopping, what do you do? You probably lock the car’s doors. And if you had siblings when you were a teenager, you probably locked your bedroom door, and maybe your diary. Locks protect things we care about from damage and injury. So, since you care about your oral health, wouldn’t it be nice if you could lock out tooth decay and save your teeth from cavities? With dental sealants, you can!
What are dental sealants?
Brushing your teeth and flossing daily removes most of the food and bacteria from your teeth. But not all of it. Especially on teeth in the back of your mouth — molars, and premolars. These are the teeth that do most of the work when you eat, the grinding and chewing. And the surface grooves and fissures —which all teeth have — are deeper on these teeth than on others, and harder to reach when you brush, particularly for young children.
In addition to a healthy oral hygiene regimen, a dental sealant can serve as an extra barrier to help protect these hard-working teeth from decay. It acts much like the wrap you put on the leftover casserole from last night’s dinner, keeping food particles, bacteria, and plaque from settling into the hills and valleys of your tooth’s surface.
Dental sealants consist of a thin coating of liquid plastic that’s painted onto the chewing surface of molars and premolars to prevent cavities from forming. Their application takes little time and is usually painless. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, once they are in place, sealants will protect your teeth against 80% of cavities for two years and continue to protect against 50% of cavities for up to four years. (Learn more here.)
How are dental sealants applied?
The application process for a dental sealant is not unlike the process for painting any surface — a table, a wall, a piece of pottery. Much of it is prep work. Because the job of the sealant is to protect your teeth from food and bacteria, the sealant must be applied to a tooth surface that is already completely free of debris. Therefore, the first step is to thoroughly clean, and dry, your tooth.
Once your clean tooth is dry, we apply an acidic solution to the surface of the tooth in order to rough it up so that the liquid plastic sealant solution will stick as well as possible. Think of this step as being like sanding the surface of a wooden table so that the paint you put on will adhere smoothly.
When the acid solution has done its work, we rinse your tooth, and, once again, the tooth is thoroughly dried. Now it’s ready for the actual sealant solution. The liquid plastic sealant is carefully painted onto the tooth’s surface by one of our dental hygienists or one of our dentists. As the liquid plastic is applied, it flows into all of the crevices in the tooth, some of which are too small to even be seen (thinner than a human hair, in some cases).
Sealant applied. Grooves and fissures filled. Only one step is left: hardening the sealant, a process called polymerizing, that is accomplished by shining a curing light on the tooth for a few minutes. This bonds the sealant to the tooth’s surface and helps ensure that it will be ready to lock out bacteria and food particles for years to come.
Of course, at each of your semi-annual dental check-ups, we’ll examine the sealed teeth to check for chips or cracks (rare, but possible). If a seal is broken, for whatever reason, the sealant can easily be reapplied.
What are the benefits of dental sealants?
If you’re like most people today, you had your share of cavities in childhood. You remember the drilling, and the stuffing, and the discomfort that can accompany getting a filling. Filling cavities in our teeth is important, but it can’t quite be called fun. Dental sealants are designed to keep cavities locked out of our teeth, so we never need a filling. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry attests that dental sealants can cut the number of cavities in children’s teeth by as much as 86% in the first year and up to 58% after four years. And they can work well for grown-ups, too. Consider that:
The cost of filling a cavity can be high, especially if you don’t have dental insurance. Since, typically, more than three teeth in an adult American’s mouth contain a filling, the long-term costs can be daunting.
Even if cost isn’t an issue, time often is. At the least, filling a cavity means an extra visit to your dentist and, perhaps, a feeling of discomfort (or even pain) that keeps you from your normal activities for the rest of the day.
Sealants can be applied rather quickly, compared to filling a cavity, and they usually cause no pain or discomfort. That’s a big benefit when it comes to children – especially those who hate going to the dentist.
As with any oral health decision, the way to start is to talk with your dentist. We at Lifetime Dental Health are here to help, right from the start. To talk to one of our dental professionals or to make your first appointment, contact us. We’ll be happy to help you lock out cavities and lock in healthier teeth.