Dental sealants are thin plastic films that a dentist “paints” on teeth to prevent decay.
Regular brushing and flossing help to remove bits of food and bacteria from the smooth parts of your teeth. Yet, toothbrush bristles can’t reach into parts of teeth called pits and fissures. These tiny grooves trap plaque and food. After you eat sugary or starchy items like milk, bread, cookies, candy, soda, juice, or fruit, bacteria in the mouth change the sugar and starch to acids. Those acids then attack your tooth enamel and cause tooth decay.
One of the most common areas for tooth decay is the chewing surface on the back teeth. These are known as the premolars and molars. If these start to decay, a dentist may suggest that you get dental sealants.
Who Should Get Dental Sealants?
When children get new teeth, the chewing surfaces are prone to decay. Thus, they are often the most common candidates for sealants. Dentists will most often apply sealants to kids’ premolars and molars, which are the least easy to clean.
Teens and adults can also gain from sealants. Research shows that about 95% of people run the risk of getting cavities in the pits and fissures of their teeth. Dental sealants help to prevent that at any age.
Applying Dental Sealants
It is quick, easy, and most often painless for your dentist to apply sealants. The first step is to clean and prepare the teeth. This may require a dental drill to open the pits in the tooth’s surface and check for decay. Next, the dentist will rough up the tooth with an acidic solution so the sealant will be able to bond to it.
In the last step, the dentist will “paint” the sealant onto the tooth. To help the sealant bond with the enamel, the dentist may use a special light to speed this process. From start to end, the work may take from five minutes to forty-five minutes. Of course, that depends on the number of teeth to be sealed.
When sealants are done right, they can work for years before they need to be reapplied. They hold up very well under the force of daily chewing. As long as they do hold up, they will protect the tooth’s chewing surfaces from decay.
In fact, studies show that sealants that have been applied right are 100% able to protect teeth from cavities. On the other hand, teeth that have damage or that have lost their sealants are no more prone to tooth decay than teeth that were never sealed. Your dentist will determine the need for dental sealant application or reapplication.