What are dental sealants?
Dental sealants are tooth colored or clear shaded resin (plastic) material that gets applied and bonds to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth in order to fill in the pits and groves of the teeth making them easier to clean (by making the grooves more shallow and smooth) and creates a barrier that makes them less likely to develop tooth decay. Many adults and children have such deep groves, that the bristles of the toothbrush can’t reach into them and clean out the food and plaque. As this debris sits there, the acids and bacteria in the mouth continue to break down this food and make the enamel more porous and more likely to develop a cavity. Sealants fill in these pits and grooves so the brush can do its job more easily.
Who is a candidate for dental sealants?
Both Children and Adults are candidates for dental sealants. Since children don’t lose their baby molars until the age of twelve, it is important to protect these teeth from developing cavities and problems that can affect the developing adult teeth. Adolescents are very prone to developing cavities due to their dietary habits and poor home care, and the sealants can help to prevent decay in the grooves of the teeth that usually get passed over during a quick brushing. Any adult can benefit from sealants as well, making it easier for cleaning out the food and plaque, and giving them an extra line of defense in the battle against tooth decay.
How are sealants applied?
Each sealant only takes a few minutes to place. First the teeth are cleaned well, and checked to make sure that no decay is present. If there are any signs of decay in those grooves, then they must be cleaned out and filled with the sealant material or a filling material if deeper. Once the chewing surfaces are cleaned, they are roughened up with an etchant (weak acid solution), and a primer and adhesive to enable the sealant material to bond to the tooth enamel. The sealant material is hardened by a light source, operating at a certain wavelength, to set the material and make it solid.
How long do sealants last for?
Depending on what type of material was applied, what types of food is being eaten (harder, crunchier foods can wear them down faster), and how good the home care is, sealants can last several years before they may need to be reapplied. Your dentist should be periodically checking to make sure that the sealants are still intact and serving their purpose. Reapplying the sealants will ensure that the tooth is protected against decay, and will save the expense of having a more involved restoration on that tooth in the future should cavities develop.