Preventing tooth decay by protecting the biting surfaces of new teeth erupting in the mouth is the role of dental sealants. Sealants have been in use since the 1970s. Products and application technique have continued to improve.
Q: How do sealants prevent tooth decay?
A: Prevention is the answer. The most important time is at 6 and 12 years of age. This is when the first and second molars erupt into the mouths of children. Dental sealants (plastic protective coverings) can be applied to the biting surfaces of back teeth. These seal the grooves where almost 90 percent of decay occurs, preventing decay from occurring when in place. Whenever decay is found at the time of placing sealants is when minimally invasive preventative bonded restorations can be placed.
Q: What is a dental sealant?
A: A sealant is a plastic material that is bonded in place over the grooves and pits that exist on the chewing surfaces of back teeth.
Q: How is the sealant bonded in place?
A: First, the teeth to be sealed are cleaned to remove food debris, plaque (bacteria) and stains, and also to check that no decay is present. This is ideally done using an air polishing or air abrasive unit (much like a mini sand blaster). The teeth are then conditioned, dried and the tooth-colored liquid sealant is painted on the teeth and vibrated into the grooves. A special laser-curing light is then used to harden the liquid.
Q: Are there any restrictions after the sealants are placed?
A: No. After the light cures the sealant (less than half a minute), you are free to eat or drink at any time. The sealant works by always preventing plaque and sugars from ever entering the now sealed grooves. You do not even know they are there when you bite. They are not seen when you smile.
Q: How long do dental sealants work?
A: As long as the bonding stays in place, the sealant works. I see sealants still working after 30 years. They withstand the forces of chewing and give years and years of service. Their retention is checked at regular dental visits. A broken or lost sealant can be replaced.
Hopefully these and other preventive dental practices with children will protect teeth and help create generations of dental patients who have no fears of the dentist.