In the duel against tooth decay, one of the most effective strategies we have at our disposal is a sealant shield. According to the Centres for Disease Control, school-aged children who don’t have sealants are almost three times more likely to have cavities than those who have had sealants placed. What are sealants? How are they applied? And are there any complications? I’d like to answer all these questions for you so when your dentist recommends sealants for yourself or your children you can make an informed decision.
The surface of a molar is a bumpy terrain of grooves, pits and fissures that help it perform its function of chewing and grinding. Unfortunately, the morphology of these teeth also makes them more vulnerable to tooth decay. Food and bacteria can get trapped in these pits and fissures much like that caramel Halloween treat sticks around. A dental sealant is a thin, plastic coating that is painted into the deep fissures and grooves of these teeth. The sealant material that fills these deep fissures thereby acts as a physical barrier from destructive bacteria that can become trapped in these more vulnerable parts of the teeth. Dental sealants are most commonly applied to children’s permanent molars soon after they have fully erupted, before any decay or bacteria have had an opportunity to settle in. Taking this early preventative measure greatly reduces the chances of developing tooth decay, cavities or worse dental complications later on.
The application of sealants is a quick and non-invasive procedure that can be done by the dental assistant, hygienist or dentist him/herself. There is no freezing or drilling involved. All teeth to be sealed are thoroughly cleaned using a gritty polish and a rotating brush. An etchant material is then applied to the cleaned chewing surfaces of the tooth. The etchant functions to create a rough, porous outer tooth layer to which the sealant material will bond with more readily. The sealant material is then painted into the grooves and pits of the tooth surface and set with a curing light. Your top and bottom teeth fit together in a very specific and snug way. Having said that, it is natural to feel some temporary discomfort after a sealant has been placed. Functional chewing and grinding of the teeth will adjust the sealants within a day or two, however, if the discomfort persists longer return to your dentist so they can make the adjustment for you.
It is important to keep in mind that while sealants protect the chewing surfaces of the teeth, that is all they do. It is still crucial to have good flossing and brushing habits to prevent cavities between teeth and other surfaces of the teeth. If you have any further questions and concerns regarding sealants don’t hesitate to ask your dental healthcare provider.