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Sealing Out Tooth Decay

Dental sealants are an important tool in preventing childhood caries and tooth decay.  Especially when used in combination with other preventative measures, like biannual checkups and an excellent daily home care routine, sealants can bolster the mouth’s natural defenses, and keep smiles healthy.

How do sealants protect children’s teeth?

In general, dental sealants are used to protect molars from forming cavities in the fissure systems. They can be difficult to clean, hence the sealants. Decay-causing bacteria often inhabit the pits and fissures found on the chewing surfaces of the molars. These areas are extremely difficult to access with a regular toothbrush.

If the pediatric dentist evaluates a child to be at high risk for tooth decay, he or she may choose to coat additional teeth. The sealant acts as a barrier, ensuring that food particles and oral bacteria cannot access vulnerable tooth enamel.

Dental sealants do not enhance the health of the teeth directly, and should not be used as a substitute for fluoride supplements or general oral care. Sealants are less costly, less uncomfortable, and more aesthetically pleasing than dental fillings.

How are sealants applied?

There are many different types of dental sealant, but most are comprised of liquid plastic.  Initially, the pediatric dentist must thoroughly clean and prepare the molars, before painting sealant on the teeth.

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

When should sealants be applied?

Sealants are usually applied when the primary molars first emerge.  Depending on the oral habits of the child, the sealants may last for the life of the primary tooth, or need replacing several times.  If the seal begins to lift off, food particles may become trapped against the tooth enamel and eventually cause decay.

Permanent molars should be sealed as soon as they emerge.

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