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Pits and Fissures
Though regular brushing and flossing help remove food particles and bacteria from the smooth surfaces of the teeth, toothbrush bristles cannot reach into a tooth’s indentations. These unreachable pits and fissures contain microscopic grooves in which plaque and food particles can become trapped. Following the consumption of sugary or starchy items like milk, bread, cookies, candy, soda, juice, or fruit, bacteria in the mouth transform the sugar and starch into acids that attack tooth enamel.
Repeated attacks may result in tooth decay. One of the most common areas for tooth decay is the chewing surface on the back teeth, otherwise known as the premolars and molars. If this occurs, a dentist may recommend dental sealants, which consist of a thin plastic film painted onto the chewing surfaces of teeth to prevent cavities.
Candidates for Dental Sealants
Because children have newly erupted teeth whose chewing surfaces are susceptible to decay, they are often the most common candidates for dental sealants. Dentists will usually apply dental sealants to the premolars and molars, which are the most difficult to clean. Besides children, teenagers and adults can also benefit from dental sealants, since research indicates that about 95% of the population runs the risk of eventually developing cavities in the pits and fissures of their teeth. In this way, dental sealants serve as preventative dentistry.
Dental Sealant Application
Dentists can apply dental sealants quickly and easily, usually without discomfort. The first step is to thoroughly clean and condition the teeth, which may require a dental drill to open the pits in the chewing surface and check for decay. Next, the dentist will roughen the chewing surface of the affected tooth with an acidic solution so the dental sealant will more strongly bond to it. Lastly, the dentist will “paint” the sealant onto the tooth’s chewing service. To help the dental sealant bond with the tooth’s enamel, the dentist may use a special curing light to speed the hardening process. Sealant application can take anywhere from five minutes to forty-five minutes, depending on the number of teeth to be sealed.
Dental Sealant Effectiveness
If a dental sealant is applied properly, it can remain intact for several years before reapplication becomes necessary, since they hold up incredibly well under the powerful force of daily chewing. During those years, the dental sealant will protect the tooth’s chewing surfaces from decay; indeed, studies show that properly applied sealants are 100% effective in protecting teeth from cavities. Conversely, teeth that have damaged or lost dental sealants are no more susceptible to tooth decay than teeth that were never sealed. A dentist will determine the need for dental sealant application or reapplication.
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