What if you could prevent tooth decay from forming in your own or your children’s teeth and avoid having to endure the dentist drill? Preventing tooth decay before it appears can mean less pain and less money spent in the long run. Proper brushing and flossing are essential to removing plaque on the smooth surfaces of teeth to help keep your mouth cavity free. But did you know that the indentations on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, called pits and fissures, are one of the most common places that tooth decay occurs and also one of the most difficult to clean properly? Toothbrush bristles often cannot reach the tiny grooves in these teeth to remove plaque effectively. How can we prevent decay from occurring in these pits and fissures that our toothbrushes cannot reach? One solution may be dental sealants.
A sealant is a plastic film-like material that is applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. The plastic material bonds to the pits and fissures of the teeth and acts as a barrier to protect the teeth from decay causing bacteria.
Sealants are most often recommended for children who have newly erupted permanent teeth. First and second permanent molars erupt into the mouth at about ages six and twelve years. Having sealants applied to these teeth shortly after they erupt protects them from developing cavities in areas that are difficult to clean. Adults who have existing pits and grooves in the biting surfaces of back teeth may also benefit from sealants. Also, individuals who experience frequent dry mouth may benefit from the extra protection of sealants since their teeth are often deprived of the protective benefits of saliva, which makes them especially vulnerable to cavities.
A dentist or hygienist must apply sealants, but the procedure is simple and fast with very little, if any, discomfort. First, the teeth to receive the sealants will be cleaned and thoroughly rinsed. An acid solution or gel will then be applied to the tooth to help the sealant bond with the tooth. The sealant material will then be painted onto the teeth, much like nail polish on a fingernail, and allowed to dry and form a bond on the chewing surface of the tooth. Your dentist may use a special curing light to help the sealant material harden. It will take a dental professional only a few minutes to seal each tooth. Once applied sealants can last from five to ten years.
Because sealants act as a physical barrier to decay causing bacteria, sealants are nearly 100% effective in protecting teeth from cavities in pits and fissures, if applied properly. A systematic review of 16 studies found that permanent molar teeth with sealants had almost 80% less tooth decay on the biting surfaces than teeth that were not sealed. Dental sealants are also cost effective. Having sealants applied is less than the cost of having a cavity filled.
Prevention is the key to keeping your mouth and teeth healthy. Be sure to brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste containing at least 1,000 parts per million of fluoride, clean between your teeth daily with floss, eat healthy foods, and visit your dentist regularly. Ask your dentist if you or your children would benefit from the added protection of dental sealants.
Irish Oral Health Services Guideline Initiative: Pit and Fissure Sealants: Evidence – based guidance on the use of sealants for the prevention and management of pit and fissure caries. 2010 http://ohsrc.ucc.ie/html/guidelines.html