Did you know that the most common chronic disease found in school-age children is tooth decay (or cavities)? While brushing twice a day and flossing daily are the best ways to prevent cavities, dental sealants are another preventative tool that can help reduce the risk of children developing cavities. Dental sealants are a protective barrier placed on the chewing surfaces of teeth that help to seal out plaque and acids from the deep pits and grooves of teeth, preventing them from forming cavities. In an October 2016 report released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the importance of sealants for school-age children was affirmed when they found that “school-age children without sealants have almost three times more cavities than children with sealants.” More recent studies have found that sealants reduce the risk of developing cavities on molars by nearly 80%.
Dental sealants are thin, protective coatings (made from plastic or other dental materials) that adhere to the chewing surfaces of teeth (typically molars). The process of placing sealants is painless and quick, taking just a few minutes in your dentist’s office. For most sealants, the dentist will first clean and dry the tooth to be sealed. The dentist will then place an acidic gel on the tooth’s chewing surface. This gel prepares the surface of the tooth so that a strong bond will form between the tooth and sealant. After a few seconds, the gel is rinsed off and the tooth is dried again. The dentist then applies the liquid sealant material to the grooves of the tooth. A special blue curing light then hardens the material and the sealant is complete.
While anyone (child or adult) can benefit from sealants, the earlier a sealant is placed on the surface of a tooth, the less likely it is to develop a cavity. For this reason, children and teenagers are often the best candidates. First molars typically appear around age 6 and second molars appear around age 12. Sealing molars as soon as they come through helps to keep them cavity free from the start.
Sealants can last several years before they need to be reapplied. During your regular dental visits, your dentist will monitor the condition of your sealants and can reapply them when needed. While sealants are not a substitute for brushing and flossing, they can help to prevent cavities from forming and may even stop early stages of decay from developing into a full-blown cavity.