Dental sealants are made of space-age plastics bonded to the occlusal (chewing) surfaces of a child’s premolars and molars. These surfaces are prone to decay, even with a good brushing and flossing routine; the sealant adds another layer that helps ensure a lifetime of good dental health.
At the dental office of Dr. Raul Molina in Miami, Florida, we regularly use dental sealants on our pediatric patients (and some of our adult patients) as part of our emphasis on preventive care.
Because not everyone is familiar with this procedure and there are some myths floating around that sealants are somehow dangerous, we’ve put together this guide so that you’ll understand the importance of dental sealants as part of your child’s oral hygiene routine.
The value of dental sealants
A child’s first permanent molars appear around six years old, and the second molars break through around age 12. The chewing surfaces on these molars have grooves — also called fissures — that make them especially vulnerable to decay. That’s because they can be deep and narrower than a single toothbrush bristle, making them hard to clean.
Plaque accumulates along these grooves, and the acid produced by bacteria in the plaque attacks the enamel, causing decay and cavities. Fluoride, found both in toothpaste and in drinking water, helps prevent decay on all the surfaces of the teeth. But dental sealants add another layer of protection by providing a smooth covering over the fissured area that’s easier to clean and keeps bacteria and food particles out as well.
Though your child still needs to brush and floss every day, sealants can help protect their developing teeth. In fact, they reduce the risk of decay in molars by nearly 80% for two years after application, and they continue to protect against 50% of cavities for up to four years.
According to the CDC, school-age children who don’t get sealants have almost three times more cavities than children who do. The sealants have been proven effective since their introduction in the 1970s, and they remain on the teeth up to nine years following application.
Some concern has been raised that dental sealants are harmful because they contain bisphenol A (BPA), an additive used in grocery receipts, baby bottles, and other plastic items. Because BPA is shaped like the hormone estrogen, it can influence systems that estrogen affects, such as growth, cellular repair, energy level, and reproduction. It can also interact with other hormone receptors, such as for your thyroid, altering its function.
However, the amount of BPA in dental sealants is so small, it’s 100 times less than the quantity you’d ingest from merely breathing the air around you. They’re quite safe.
The application process
Depending on which sealant Dr. Molina uses, it may appear clear, white, or have a slight tooth-colored tint to it. It’s invisible once it’s cured onto the teeth.
First, Dr. Molina (or the dental hygienist) cleans your teeth with paste and a rotating brush, then rinses them with water and dries them off. Next, they place an acidic solution on the fissures in the molars’ chewing surfaces for a few seconds to “etch” the teeth and make the sealant stick more easily. After the teeth are rinsed off and dried again, they place the dental sealant on the teeth and “cure” or harden it with a light, turning it into a clear varnish. That’s it! You can eat and drink normally as soon as you leave the office.
Sealants can also be used over areas where early decay is evident, to prevent any further damage to your tooth. Because sealants are clear, Dr. Molina can keep an eye on the tooth to make sure the sealant is doing its job when your child comes in every six months for their professional dental cleaning and checkup.
Cavities are one of the most common chronic conditions for children and teens. If left untreated, cavities can lead to pain, infection, and problems with speaking and eating. Sealants are a highly effective, but underutilized, treatment that will set up your child for a lifetime of healthy teeth.