When you go to the dentist for a regular checkup, aren’t you hoping to hear the magic words? You know the phrase: “No cavities.” That declaration from your dentist usually means you don’t need any restorative dental treatments and that you’re free to make your next appointment for six months down the road.
As a parent, you also hope to hear those words said about your children’s teeth. Even though you know from personal experience that having a cavity filled is a painless, simple procedure, you still hope to help your children avoid cavities. To keep their teeth strong, you limit their intake of sugary foods and make sure they brush and floss their teeth.
There’s another cavity-prevention measure that some parents don’t think of very often: dental sealants. Dentists often recommend these strong toothcoverings as a way to minimize a child’s risk of tooth decay. This blog will familiarize you with the value of this standard dental treatment.
Why Get Dental Sealants?
The outermost layer of every tooth is enamel. The minerals in enamel make it the hardest, strongest substance in your body-even stronger than your bones.
Despite its inherent toughness, enamel isn’t indestructible. It faces quite a few potentially destructive forces, such as the forces created when you bite down on hard foods and the chemical reactions that occur between the bacteria and acids in your mouth. In some cases, those forces break through enamel, creating cavities or other forms of tooth decay.
Your teeth also naturally have quite a few fissures, or tiny grooves. Those fissures are particularly common on the chewing surfaces of your molars and premolars (the teeth between your molars and your front teeth). Tiny food bits can hide inside those fissures and encourage cavities to develop, and even thorough brushing might not adequately clean out the fissures.
Dental sealants provide a single solution for both of these potential problems. Sealants are typically made from the same composite material your dentist uses to create tooth-colored fillings. This material is strong, so it acts like suit of armor that protects the tooth below it. The sealant material also creates a smooth surface, reducing the number of fissures on the surface of a tooth.
How effectively do sealants keep cavities from forming? The American Dental Association reports that they reduce risk of cavity development by almost 80% in molars.
Who Should Receive Dental Sealants?
Dentists typically recommend dental sealants for kids and young teens, but adults can also have dental sealants placed if appropriate.
Kids Under 6
Although sealants are most often used on permanent teeth, some children may benefit from having sealants placed on their primary teeth. Dentists usually recommend sealants for kids this age when their primary teeth have quite a few deep pits that would encourage cavity development.
In patients this young, the dentist wants to prevent decay, particularly decay that would lead teeth to fall out prematurely. Primary teeth are important as placeholders for permanent teeth that will grow in later.
Kids Age 6 to 14
Between these ages, most kids lose their primary premolars and molars. The premolars fall out first, around age 6. The molars fall out later, usually when the child is between 11 and 14. As soon as the permanent teeth emerge, they can have sealants placed on them. Many dentists prefer to place sealants as soon as possible to minimize the amount of time teeth have to develop cavities.
Teenagers and Adults
Some people who didn’t have sealants placed during their childhood or early teen years may still be good candidates for this preventative measure. A dentist may suggest sealants for people in this age group if their teeth have particularly deep fissures or other decay risk factors. However, sealants cannot be placed over teeth surfaces that already have fillings.
What Does It Feel Like to Get Dental Sealants?
If you’ve never had sealants placed before, or if you worry about how your child will feel during the procedure, this section should help put you at ease. First, you should know that the patient doesn’t need to have any anesthesia to have sealants applied-you won’t have to prepare yourself or your child to receive a numbing injection.
Second, it takes only a few minutes for the dentist to put on a single sealant. You can have multiple sealants applied in a single, short appointment. You or your child won’t have to spend a long time in the dental chair.
As your dentist places each sealant, expect him or her to follow this basic pattern of steps:
1. Clean and dry the tooth.
2. Put cotton or a similar material around the tooth to keep it dry.
3. Apply a roughening solution to the tooth so the sealant will stick effectively.
4. Rinse and dry the tooth again.
5. Apply the sealant with a tool that is similar to a paintbrush.
6. Give the sealant time to harden. Your dentist may use a special light to speed up the hardening process.
These steps are painless, so most patients feel comfortable through the entire sealant placement process. Of course, if you have any questions or worries, just talk to your dentist about them before the procedure begins. He or she will help put you at ease.
Use this information to prepare yourself or your children to receive dental sealants. Get ready to enjoy the extra tooth-decay protection they offer.