Definition and Overview

Sealants are thin, plastic coating materials that are placed on the teeth's surface to protect them from tooth decay. They are most commonly used on the molars and premolars to prevent dental caries from settling in the teeth's natural grooves and fissures, which are dangerous hiding places for cavities. Plaque also accumulates more easily on these back teeth because they are not fully protected by saliva and fluoride due to their location. Once the sealants are applied, however, the material bonds with the teeth's grooves and creates a full shield over each tooth.

How Sealants work

The back teeth, namely the molars and premolars, are highly susceptible to cavities, dental caries, and tooth decay because they are hard to reach with a toothbrush or dental floss. Due to the extra challenge in keeping these teeth clean, they are more vulnerable to plaque. Sealants work by keeping food particles from getting into the nooks, grooves, and fissures of the back teeth.

Due to their protective function, sealants are now commonly regarded as a basic component in dental hygiene. In addition, they are also proven to be beneficial in the management of lesions caused by dental caries.

Dental caries refer to the process wherein the minerals naturally found on the surface of a tooth gradually disappear due to the bacteria and acids that collect in the mouth while chewing food. This loss of minerals is counteracted by saliva and fluoride, which help new minerals to form. However, since molars and premolars are often beyond the reach of saliva and fluoride, they receive very limited protection compared to the other teeth. Thus, there is more loss of minerals than there is gain and this ultimately causes dental caries.

With dental caries now considered as the most common oral disease that attacks teeth even at a young age, the protection provided by sealants is crucial.

Who should get Sealants

Since sealants are designed to protect the teeth, it is best to get them at a young age. The most advisable age for getting sealants is between 6 and 14 years old. These are the years when children are most prone to cavities and dental caries. At six years old, most children get their permanent molars and premolars, which make it a good time to begin the protective process.

However, adults and younger children will also benefit from sealants. Adults with healthy teeth should get them to further protect their teeth from damage and decay, which become more common as a person ages.

Younger children, such as toddlers with baby teeth, may also get sealants, especially when the teeth have deep grooves. Keeping a child's baby teeth healthy will also help maintain proper spacing for when the permanent teeth come in. In addition, getting sealants will ensure that children don't lose their baby teeth earlier than they should.

What to expect during your dental appointment

For sealants application, you should see your dentist or your dental hygienist.

This protective procedure is performed at the dentist's clinic and can be completed in a single visit. The process is simple, painless, and only takes a few minutes for each tooth. This does mean, however, that if several of your teeth need a sealant, the procedure will take longer.

Prior to the application of the sealants, each tooth is first cleaned thoroughly and dried. An acid solution that roughens up the tooth surface may also be required to ensure that the protective coating bonds quickly with the surface of the tooth after application. This, however, depends on the type of sealant used. If an acid solution is used, the teeth have to be rinsed and dried for the second time.

Once the teeth are prepped, the sealants will be applied. Once placed on the tooth, the material quickly hardens. The dentist may also speed up the hardening process by applying a special curing light.

How long can Sealants protect teeth

Sealants offer long-term protection of up to 10 years, which make them a highly cost-effective preventive measure for proper dental health maintenance. Nevertheless, dentists still need to periodically check them for chips and cracks, which can be easily repaired. This means that even with sealants on, you still need to schedule your regular dentist's appointment at least once every six months. If damaged sealants are detected, your dentist will replace them with new ones.

Are Sealants covered by dental insurance

As a basic preventive procedure, sealants are covered by most dental insurance policies. To be certain, however, check with your insurance provider first before going to the dentist for sealants.

References:

  • Asawa K., Gupta V., Tak M., et al. “Dental Sealants: Knowledge, Value, Opinion, and Practice among Dental Professionals of Bathinda City, India.” Advances in Preventive Medicine, vol. 2014.

  • Griffin SO., Oong E., Kohn W., et al. “The Effectiveness of Sealants in Managing Caries Lesions.” Journal of Dental Research.

  • Beltrán-Aguilar ED, Barker LK, Canto MT, Dye BA, Gooch BF, Griffin SO, Hyman J, Jaramillo F, Kingman A, Nowjack-Raymer R, Selwitz RH, Wu T. “Surveillance for dental caries, dental sealants, tooth retention, edentulism, and enamel fluorosis.”

  • Featherstone J.B.D. (2008). “Dental Caries: A Dynamic Disease Process.” Australian Dental Journal.

  • Avinash J., Marya C.M., Dhingra S. et al. (2010). “Pit and Fissure Sealants: An Unused Caries Prevention Tool.” Journal of Oral Health and Community Dentistry.

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