Dental Sealants: a primer for parents

What are dental sealants and when and where are they applied? Dental sealants are plastic resins that are bonded to the hygienically cleaned, etched, flushed, and dried chewing surfaces of any teeth that have natural grooves, pits, or fissures, especially the molars, which have the greatest diversity in their surface structure. The dentist or dental hygienist applies the resin and then dries it with a light system. For best results, the sealant is applied to the fully erupted, yet new, healthy tooth before it can sustain damage. However, they can be applied at any age after the dental hygienist properly prepares the teeth.

Do dental sealants show? Dental sealants dry either quite clear, white, or tinted; however, since most are applied to molars, they generally are not seen under normal circumstances.

Why are dental sealants used? After a dental hygienist meticulously cleans the teeth, she or he applies the plastic resin sealant to prevent food particles and bacteria from collecting in the tiny crevices and creating dental caries.

How do dental sealants work? Just as a plastic raincoat helps to keep a youngster dry, dental sealants keep the showers of liquids and particles of food out of the plastic-covered crevices of their teeth to protect from tooth decay.

Who needs dental sealants, and when should they be applied? Dental sealants are particularly useful for youngsters who are in their early stages of learning to care for their teeth, gums, and mouth; however, they can benefit every age.

How long does it take for sealants to dry and how long do dental sealants last? It takes only about 10 to 20 seconds for the plastic resin to dry. With care, dental sealants can last many years.

How effective are dental sealants? Followup research and study indicate that dental sealants are 100 percent effective in protecting teeth from dental caries.

Along with a daily hygiene program and regular professional checkups, today's dental sealants offer the prospect of a reduction in dental caries in youngsters and less tooth loss in the mature population to help keep those smiles sparkling.

Dental sealants help stop most common chronic childhood disease

Three years after the Surgeon General dubbed American’s oral health a ‘silent epidemic’, a new report shows that the mouth is still getting too little medical attention. In fact, overall, the nation only scores a C, says the National Institutes of Health and Oral Health America, the nonprofit advocacy group that helped issue the report. New York faired only slightly better than the national average — scoring a C+. Access to care and lack of proper preventive services were cited as the biggest problems. Among the variety of measures the grades were derived from, New York scored high in the number of children who have cavity-blocking dental sealants on their teeth. Easy and painless for your dentist to apply to the pits and fissures of back teeth, the resin material acts as a barrier to protect the enamel from bacterial plaque. Each tooth takes only a few minutes to seal. First, after a good cleaning, the chewing surfaces of each tooth are etched with a mild acidic solution to help the sealant adhere; then the sealant is brushed on the tooth enamel and allowed to harden. Sealants are examined during regular dental visits to check for wear and tear, but reapplication is needed only every three to four years, at a cost of about $50-$60 per tooth. Because children are much more susceptible to tooth decay than adults, when possible, sealants should be applied to children’s teeth before decay has a chance to begin, says pediatric dentist Alan Azrak, D.D.S., of Dentistry for Children in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “It’s not an invasive procedure. There’s no anesthesia, no cutting, and it’s not painful,” Dr. Azrak says. “Over 90-95 percent of our child patients have dental sealants. We usually recommend it for children at ages 6 or 7, once they have permanent molars.” Although only 12.5 percent of all tooth surfaces are used for chewing, these surfaces develop more than two-thirds of all cavities experienced by children. Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease — half of first-graders already have a cavity. By forming a thin covering over the pits and fissures, which are impossible for the bristles of a toothbrush to reach, sealants play a significant role in the prevention of tooth decay. “It’s a good thing that protects the teeth from cavities before decay has a chance to start,” Dr. Azrak says.