Dental sealants: They are not just for kids anymore
Dental sealants, those plastic materials that are applied directly to the chewing surfaces of back teeth fitting into pits and fissures and designed to prevent tooth decay, have been long associated with children and teen-agers. But according to organizations like the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) and the American Dental Association (ADA), sealants can also be effective deterrents to tooth decay for adults.
According to the AGD, many dentists recommend and apply dental sealants to premolars and molars in their younger patients, but sealants can also protect adult teeth and seal them from decay-causing bacteria.
“It takes only a few minutes to seal each tooth, and once applied [a sealant] can protect teeth from decay for up to several years,” said Bruce DeGinder, DDS, MAGD, AGD spokesperson and past president. “As long as the sealant remains intact, small food particles and bacteria that cause cavities cannot penetrate through or around a sealant. Sealant protection is reduced or lost when part or the entire bond between the tooth and sealant is broken.”
The AGD explains the procedure for applying a dental sealant as follows:
1. Clean the teeth. The dentist may need to check whether decay is present in the grooves of the teeth.
2. Roughen the chewing surfaces with an acid solution. This process will help the sealant stick to the teeth.
3. Paint the sealant on the tooth. It bonds directly to the tooth and hardens.
The AGD recommends that patients visiting their general dentists twice a year for regular dental appointments will allow the dentists to check the condition of dental sealants and reapply them when necessary.
The ADA, which also says that adults can benefit from sealants, offers the following information on sealants in question-and-answer format:
How does a sealant help prevent decay?
A sealant is a plastic material that is usually applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth — premolars and molars. This plastic resin bonds into the depressions and grooves (pits and fissures) of the chewing surfaces of back teeth. The sealant acts as a barrier, protecting enamel from plaque and acids. Thorough brushing and flossing help remove food particles and plaque from smooth surfaces of teeth. But toothbrush bristles cannot reach all the way into the depressions and grooves to extract food and plaque. Sealants protect these vulnerable areas by ‘sealing out’ plaque and food.
Is sealant application a complicated procedure?
Sealants are easy for your dentist to apply, and it takes only a few minutes to seal each tooth. The teeth that will be sealed are cleaned. Then the chewing surfaces are roughened with an acid solution to help the sealant adhere to the tooth. The sealant is then ‘painted’ onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. Sometimes a special curing light is used to help the sealant harden. As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants hold up well under the force of normal chewing and usually last several years before a reapplication is needed. During your regular dental visits, your dentist will check the condition of the sealants and reapply them when necessary.
What can be done beyond sealants?
Key ingredients in preventing tooth decay and maintaining a healthy mouth are twice-daily brushing with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste; cleaning between the teeth daily with floss or interdental cleaners; eating a balanced diet and limiting snacks; and visiting your dentist regularly. Ask your dentist about whether sealants can put extra power behind your prevention program.