Sealing Out Tooth Decay

Tooth decay has become increasingly prevalent in preschoolers.  Not only is tooth decay unpleasant and painful, it may lead to more serious problems such as premature tooth loss and childhood periodontal disease.

Dental sealants are an important tool in preventing childhood caries (cavities). Sealants bolster your mouth’s natural defenses, and keep smiles healthy. They are especially useful when used in combination with other preventative measures, such as checkups and an excellent daily home care routine.

How do sealants protect your child's teeth?

Dental sealants are used to protect molars from oral bacteria and harmful oral acids.  These larger, flatter teeth are toward the back of your mouth and can be difficult to clean.  Four out of five instances of tooth decay occur in molars.  Decay-causing bacteria often inhabit the nooks and crannies (pits and fissures) found on the chewing surfaces of your molars.  These areas can be challenging to access with a regular toothbrush.

When we evaluate your child to be at risk for tooth decay, we may recommend coating additional teeth (for example, bicuspid teeth).  Sealants act as a barrier, ensuring that food particles and oral bacteria cannot penetrate vulnerable tooth enamel.

Dental sealants should not be used as a substitute for fluoride supplements or general oral care.  Usually, sealants are less costly, less uncomfortable and more aesthetically pleasing than dental fillings.

How are sealants applied?

Though there are many different types of dental sealant, most consist of liquid plastic.  Initially, we thoroughly clean and prepare the molars, before painting sealant on the targeted teeth.  Some sealants are bright pink when wet and clear when dry.  This bright pink coloring enables Dr. Lockwood to see that all pits and fissures have been thoroughly coated.

When every targeted tooth is properly coated, the sealant is either left to self-harden or exposed to blue spectrum natural light for several seconds.  This specialized light works to harden the sealant and cure the plastic.  The final result is a clear (or whitish) layer of thin, hard and durable sealant.

It should be noted that the “sealing” procedure is easily completed in one office visit, and is entirely painless.

When should sealants be applied?

Sealants are usually applied when the primary (baby) molars first emerge.  Depending on the oral habits of your child, the sealants may last for the life of the primary tooth, or need replacing several times.  Essentially, sealant durability depends on the oral habits of each child.

We recommend that permanent molars be sealed as soon as they emerge.  In some cases, sealant can be applied before the permanent molar is full grown.

The health of the sealant must be monitored at semiannual appointments.  If the seal begins to lift off, food particles may become trapped against the tooth enamel, actually causing tooth decay.

If you have questions or concerns about dental sealants, please give us a call.


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