By Brianne Jones, RDH
When you visit your child’s dental office for a regular checkup, a common treatment that they may recommend for your children are sealants. There can be many questions associated with sealants, so we hope that we can answer some of the most common questions here.
What are sealants?
A sealant is a thin plastic coating that is applied to the grooves on the chewing surface of teeth. The chewing surface is the most common area of teeth to get decay, and by placing the sealant onto the teeth, it helps protect them from decay. The sealants protect the grooves of the teeth by keeping food particles from sitting there. Although it does not guarantee that your child will not get a cavity, it dramatically reduces the risk of decay.
Which teeth will get the sealant?
Permanent molars benefit the most from sealants because they are the most susceptible to decay on the chewing surface. The first set of molars usually comes in around age six and the second set comes in around age 12. Ideally, the sealants should be applied when the molars first erupt so that there is not time for decay to occur.
Will I be able to see the sealant?
Sealants can only be seen when you are looking at your children’s teeth up close. They are tooth colored material, so they are difficult to see even when you’re looking for them, and they definitely can’t be seen when the child is talking or smiling.
How are sealants applied?
Applying sealants is quick and easy, and will be completed by one of our assistants. No numbing is needed, but we do recommend using laughing gas while the sealants are being applied to help relax your child and lower their gag reflex. No tooth structure is removed when applying the sealant, so there is no drilling. After the tooth is cleaned, a special gel called etch is applied to the chewing surface of the tooth. This prepares the tooth so that the sealant will be able to stick to it in the most effective way. After the gel has been on the tooth for a few seconds, it is washed off with water and then the tooth is dried with air. Then, the sealant is painted into the grooves on the tooth. A blue light is then used to change the sealant from being soft and malleable, into a hard, tooth like material. It only takes a few minutes to do each sealant, however the tooth must be dry. To achieve this, an assistant may place cotton roles under the tongue and cotton on the cheek, or a plastic device that keeps the patient’s tongue, cheek and lips away from the tooth.
How long does a sealant last?
Sealants last between five and ten years. It is possible for a sealant to come off, but we will check them at each of your child’s regular dental checkups. Sealants can be reapplied if they do come off.
Do sealants replace the need to use fluoride toprevent cavities?
No, fluoride, like that found in toothpaste and community water supplies, acts in a different way than sealants to protect teeth from cavities. Fluoride acts both systemically to strengthen teeth before they have erupted, and topically where it is incorporated into the surface of the teeth to make them more decay resistant. Sealants prevent decay by keeping food and germs out of the grooves of the teeth. Although fluoride and sealants work together to reduce cavities, one is not a replacement for the other. Sealants are just one part of your child’s entire preventative dental program. Remember that it is important to include twice daily brushing, once daily flossing, fluoride and smart food choices in order to keep your children cavity free!