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Dental sealants are preventative, protective barriers that safeguard teeth against tooth decay. They’re made up of an almost plastic-like resin that coats the outermost tooth enamel. The thin layer of material is placed in deep grooves or pits on teeth, making it easier to clean them with a toothbrush. As a result, there’s less food debris and bacteria left on the tooth to cause a cavity.
It’s important to note that sealants are only semi-permanent and more of a temporary type of treatment. Ultimately the goal is to place a sealant on a child’s tooth to help them reach adulthood with a cavity-free smile. Great oral hygiene and regular dental checkups are still a necessity.
Candidates for Dental Sealants
Sealants are typically recommended for children. In most cases, they’re covered at close to 100% by dental insurance until your child is 14 years old. We advise placing them on permanent (adult) molars soon after eruption, which is typically around the ages of 6 and 12. Sealants cannot be placed if there is an active cavity. The tooth must be completely healthy.
Which Teeth are Sealants Used On?
Sealants require deep grooves and pits in the tooth to adhere to them. Most baby teeth don’t have deep crevices, but the adult molars (back teeth) do. These permanent molars typically erupt around the ages of 6 and 12, respectively. Depending on the child, that timeframe may fluctuate a bit.
More importantly, the sealant is placed on these back “first” and “second” molars because they’re difficult to clean, and thus more cavity prone. We make every attempt to place the sealant as soon as the tooth erupts, before cavity-causing bacteria have a chance to make an impact.
Can sealants be placed on teeth other than adult molars? Yes, but usually it’s on a case-by-case basis. Premolars/bicuspids or primary (baby) molars with deep grooves may also benefit from this preventative procedure.
Sealants vs. Dental Fillings
Dental sealants are non-invasive. They’re placed directly onto a tooth with intact enamel and no active decay. Otherwise, you run the risk of trapping bacteria underneath, allowing a cavity to spread.
If there is active decay in that site, a dental filling will be necessary. During a filling appointment, we physically remove the decayed tooth structure and then fill the void with a tooth-colored composite material.
A sealant isn’t a permanent enough option to restore tooth anatomy that’s lost due to decay. It’s simply meant to help prevent the cavity from forming in the first place. Both sealants and fillings play different roles from one another. If you have questions about which one is best for your child, we are more than happy to discuss our recommendations with you.
What to Expect
Placing sealants is extremely quick and non-invasive. They usually only take a few minutes to apply. And when your child is getting more than one filling, they can be prepped and placed at the same time. More often than not, we add the sealant procedure to your child’s existing cleaning appointment, or simply book them for a short 30-minute visit on a separate day.
The most important part of the sealant placement is keeping the tooth dry. If saliva contaminates the surface of the tooth, the sealant usually won’t stick properly. Small pieces of cotton are placed next to the tooth to help isolate it from the rest of your child’s mouth. We’ll gently etch, rinse, and dry the tooth first. Then the sealant is applied in a way that allows it to flow down into the deep grooves and pits in that space. Some sealants are self-curing, while others require a bright light to harden them permanently into place. Ideally the entire process takes under 5 minutes.
Post-Treatment Home Care
Dental sealants are temporary protective covers. Eating extremely sticky foods can potentially pull the sealant off of the tooth. Try to avoid things like taffy, caramel, or other tacky-textured snacks.
We’ll monitor the integrity of your child’s sealants during each checkup. If one requires occasional touch-up, we may be able to reapply a sealant during the same appointment.
Saving Smiles Early
The key to dental sealants is placing them while your child’s tooth is newly erupted and healthy. Make sure your family is up to date on your checkups, so that sealants can be applied once your child’s 6 and 12-year molars begin to erupt.
If it’s been six months or longer since your child’s last dental cleaning, contact us today. Be sure to let us know that you’re also interested in having your child’s teeth sealed during their appointment. Call (617) 527-6061 or request an appointment online.