We all know by now that regular brushing and flossing is the key to preventing tooth decay. As parents, teaching our children this twice-daily ritual is part of our job. But monitoring how well kids are taking care of their teeth can be hard. Because of this, bringing in some reinforcements can help. Tooth sealants are an extra layer that can help protect teeth, especially when tooth brushing and flossing may not be enough.
What is a tooth sealant?
Tooth sealants are a preventative measure dentists use to prevent cavities in children (and some adults). Painted on the teeth, dental sealants create a barrier between the tooth and any decay-causing material left over from brushing.
The benefits of dental sealants are clear. One study found that dental sealants reduced the risk of cavity on molars by 80%. Nine out of ten cavities appear on back molars, so this extra protection is crucial.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend dental sealants for all children, overall, 60% of children between the ages of six and 11 do not have them. Low-income children are less likely than their higher-income peers to have dental sealants.
The CDC estimates that providing tooth sealants to the seven million low-income children without them could save their parents up to $300 million dollars in dental treatments. Sealants can be applied by a dentist, dental hygienist, or any other certified professional in an office setting or mobile dental lab that can travel to schools and low-income neighborhoods.
Other dental care options
Tooth sealants are not the same type of dental treatment as dental fillings. Dental fillings are placed when decay has formed a cavity that must be drilled out. Unlike a filling that occurs after the fact, dental sealants prevent cavities before they form. In some cases, they can also prevent minor tooth decay from becoming a cavity.
Some parents opt for fluoride varnish instead of dental sealants. Fluoride varnish is also an important part of dental treatments for children, but they are not the same thing. Fluoride treatments follow the contours of the tooth while tooth sealants fill in pits and fissures in erupting molars. Tooth sealants create a physical barrier between the tooth and any cavity-causing particles. Fluoride is absorbed by teeth to create stronger enamel. Working together, these two treatments are powerful cavity prevention tools.
In general, children get sealants for teeth when their molars appear. The first set of molars usually erupts around age six, with the second set coming in at 12. At both of these ages, proper dental hygiene is challenging. Sealants fill in the gaps, literally and figuratively, to prevent cavities in new molars.
What can I expect during a dental sealants procedure?
The procedure for dental sealants is straightforward and painless. Your dentist will conduct a regular cleaning, flossing and brushing teeth as usual. If there is any decay, they will remove that as well.
Once the cleaning is done, they will dry your teeth and place a mildly acidic solution on the surfaces to be sealed. This solution etches the teeth slightly so that the tooth sealant adheres better and lasts longer.
Dental sealant is painted on with a brush and allowed to dry briefly before it is cured with a special light. This light sets the sealant and hardens it so that it lasts longer.
What material is used for sealants?
The dental sealant itself is a liquid coating made from plastics derived from Bisphenol A, commonly referred to as BPA.
These materials include bis-GMA and bis-DMA. While the initials “BPA” maybe alarming to parents, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration finds that sealants for teeth, when properly applied, release little to no BPA and are thus safe. In fact, simply breathing the air around you is 100 times more harmful than dental sealants.
Most sealants are translucent and blend in with teeth, but some are clear. Clear sealants are applied over areas that have had decay so your dentist can make sure decay does not progress.
How long do sealants last on your teeth?
Tooth sealants are a safe and long-lasting preventative measure taken to prevent cavities. With normal use, most sealants last up to four years. In some cases, sealants may last even longer.
Longevity depends on a child’s diet and regular dental hygiene. Children who have diets that are high in sugar and fat and low in calcium, protein, and leafy greens may find their sealants wearing away faster.
Care for dental sealants by:
- Eating a balanced diet
- Limiting sugary foods and drinks
- Limiting snacking
- Drinking plenty of water
- Brushing your teeth twice daily
- Flossing teeth
You can promote good dental hygiene early by brushing your baby’s gums and teeth as they emerge. Another way to get kids in the habit of brushing well is by modeling it yourself. Use tooth-brushing time to connect with your kids at least twice a day.
Are dental sealants safe?
Although some parents my flinch at the mention of BPA in dental sealants, the cavity-preventing benefits outweigh the negligible risk that minor amounts of BPA pose to your children.
How much do tooth sealants cost?
For those with dental insurance, there is good news. Most dental insurance covers tooth sealants as a preventative measure at 100%.
For patients without dental insurance, tooth sealants can cost between $30 and $40 per tooth. Many dental schools will offer dental sealants at less than half that cost, and other free or low-cost dental clinics offer reduced rates. Although it can be challenging to find the money to pay out of pocket, in the end, dental sealants reduce dental costs. It’s worth seeking out affordable treatment or working with your dentist on a payment plan.
Do you need a cosmetic dentist in the Phoenix area to apply tooth sealants? AZ Dentist is a family dentist for all of your dental needs at any stage of life. Get in touch today!