Dental sealants are one of the most effective ways to protect a child’s or adult’s back teeth from decay and cavities, yet they are often underutilized. The procedure is easy and fast, can be done in the dentist’s office, and requires virtually no recovery time, making it a favorite with patients that are candidates for dental sealants. While sealants are not permanent, they can be easily replaced when needed and are a useful tool in deterring the development of tooth decay.
What Are Dental Sealants?
Thin dental coatings designed to better protect a tooth are called dental sealants. Their purpose is to close fissures or holes in teeth and protect against further tooth decay and cavities. Many dentists use dental sealants on the surface of the back teeth and molars which are typically used for chewing as those teeth can experience higher levels of decay. Sealants are not obvious or noticeable to others due to their natural color.
Because dental sealants are not permanent, they are more commonly used in young children who need the extra protection for their baby teeth until the adult ones come in. Even once the permanent molars come in, sealants can assist in deterring cavities during the teen years when the risk of decay can be much higher. However, they are still used in some cases for adults who have teeth that are at a higher risk of tooth decay and cavities.
A person’s need for sealants does not necessarily mean that they practiced poor or inefficient dental hygiene. Although twice daily brushing and flossing can go a long way toward combatting plaque, it is possible to miss minute grooves or cracks in a tooth where food and bacteria collects and contributes to decay.
How Dental Sealants Work
When food or bacteria gathers in even the smallest opening of a tooth, it provides a pathway that leads to cavities. The longer these particles sit on a tooth, the higher the chances are of a cavity developing.
People typically eat several times daily, making the introduction of food particles a normal and repetitive occurrence. To better protect teeth, dentists may apply dental sealants as a barrier between particles and bacteria and the teeth themselves. This can be a proactive process to help keep decay from occurring in problem areas.
Fortunately, this procedure is usually an easy and pain-free process. No anesthetic or numbing agents are needed. For most patients the process follows these steps:
- Cleaning. A patient’s teeth should be thoroughly cleaned in order to facilitate the application of sealants. This is done to provide a clean surface in which bacteria and food particles are no longer present.
- Drying the teeth. The absence of saliva is helpful in keeping the surface of the teeth more receptive to the adherence of the sealant. For this reason, the affected tooth or teeth will need to be dried with cotton or gauze.
- Texturing of the surface of the tooth. Because a sealant will stick better to a rough surface than a slick one, the dentist usually applies an etching solution designed to give it more texture. After a short period of time, the solution is rinsed away.
- Applying the sealant. The affected tooth is dried again, and the dental sealant is painted onto the surface of the tooth. Although some sealants may harden on their own, to accelerate the process, some dentists may use a curing light.
This is a general framework that may vary from patient to patient depending on their age and cooperation, the number of affected teeth they have, and other factors. Dental sealants do not normally require a recovery period, but it may take some time to get the patient’s bite just right. This may even happen naturally with some daily wear and tear on the new sealant.
Patients should be aware that dental sealants can crack or come loose over time. So that dentists can keep a close eye on the state of sealants, it is critical for patients to keep regular dental appointments every six months. Should a patient notice a change in a sealant in between visits, they should make an appointment to have it properly checked out.
The Benefits of Dental Sealants
Getting dental sealants is a relatively quick and painless procedure that can help guard against tooth decay and cavity development. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that dental sealants can protect against eighty percent of cavities for up to two years, and fifty percent of cavities for up to four years.
While it is more commonly used in young children with baby teeth still present, the process can provide benefits for all ages, including:
- No anesthetics or numbing agents required. This can help put people feel at ease because the absence of the usage of numbing agents generally means the process will not be painful.
- No drills needed. For some patients, the sound of dental instruments like drills can invoke more fear than the process itself. Dental sealants do not require the use of drills and instead use a special tool to paint the sealant onto the teeth.
- No recovery time needed. A dental procedure that requires an extended recovery time can also be concerning to patients worried that their daily activities will be impacted. With dental sealants, most patients will not require downtime to recover.
- Easy replacements. It may be possible for a sealant to crack or come off in time, in which case a new one will be needed. The replacement process is much the same as the original process, quick and painless.
If you or your child’s back teeth and molars are collecting stubborn food particles despite practicing proper hygiene, reach out to Meyerland Family Dentistry to determine if dental sealants are right for you.