Have you taken your child to the dentist and left with a recommendation for dental sealants? There is a strong chance you answer yes here. Dental sealants are a common recommendation and a form of preventive dentistry, especially for children around 6 years of age through their teenage years. But what are they, why are they commonly talked about, and how can your child benefit from them?
What is a dental sealant?
Dental sealants are a thin layer of protective material that fills in the deep anatomical grooves of your child’s back teeth where they do most of their chewing. Dental sealants are recommended mostly for molars, but may be indicated for premolars as well.
Why are dental sealants recommended?
Premolars and molars naturally have crevices or pits and fissures in the chewing surface that can easily collect food particles and accumulate plaque that may contribute to developing cavities. By placing a thin coating of material in these grooves, it is harder for plaque or bacteria to become stuck here.
Is your child ready for dental sealants?
The most important factor during the placement of dental sealants is to maintain a very dry tooth free from saliva. Isolating the tooth to maintain a dry field will help your dental provider ensure an effective sealant is placed. If the tooth becomes wet during the application process, the sealant will not adhere well, will likely come off during chewing, and therefore, its purpose of helping prevent cavities in the deep grooves becomes compromised. So in order to feel confident in the placement of dental sealants, your provider will first consider cooperation from your child as the first step in deciding if they are ready for sealants. If your child is anxious, wiggly in the dental chair, and too fearful of laying back and opening wide, it may be best to postpone dental sealants until they are more comfortable or your provider may recommend laughing gas (nitrous oxide) to help relieve any nerves and aid in creating a comfortable environment.
Sometimes primary teeth (baby teeth) can benefit from dental sealants if they have these deep anatomical grooves or pits and are at a high risk for developing a cavity. More commonly, the permanent molars (and sometimes premolars) are often recommended for sealing. The first molars erupt around 6-7 years of age so you may begin discussing this preventive procedure with your dentists around this time. The second molars do not typically erupt until around 12 years of age, so your child may be ready for another round of sealants in their early teen years.
Most providers will wait for the teeth to erupt fully after the gum tissue is no longer covering the tooth. This is because the flap of tissue that can hide part of the grooves is harder to retract and it is important to keep the tooth isolated for an effective sealant.
How are dental sealants applied?
First, your dental provider will brush the teeth with a special toothpaste called pumice. This helps remove any debris from the grooves and clean the surface completely so the sealant is not trapping any bacteria. Next, a blue acid etch material is applied to the grooves to help the sealant adhere to the natural tooth. Without etching, the material cannot bond and a good sealant is not possible. After the etch has sat for roughly 30 seconds on the tooth and then rinsed and dried well, the sealant material is applied and flows into the deep pits and fissures and is cured with a special dental light for 15-20 seconds. This light allows the material to harden and stay in place for many years. Each dental sealant on each tooth takes only 5 minutes or so, so if your child is having all four molars sealed at one time, this can typically be done in 20-30 minutes depending on their level of cooperation. During sealant application, none of your child’s tooth structure is removed like if the tooth had a cavity and was being restored.
How can your child benefit from dental sealants?
According to the CDC, sealants help prevent up to 80% of cavities for the two years after placement and up to 50% of cavities for four years. Additionally, CDC research has shown that 9 out of 10 cavities in permanent teeth in children occur in the back teeth, where dental sealants are often recommended.
Sealants are 100% preventive and can last many years, depending on your child’s oral hygiene and eating habits. It is important to remember that good brushing, flossing, using a cavity-prevention toothpaste and limiting foods that are high in sugar are still just as important in preventing cavities. Just because your child has dental sealants does not mean they are free of getting a cavity. Be sure to look for sustainable products such as Grin Natural's Oral Care Pack to help prevent cavities and keep your little one’s excited about good oral health!
About the Author
Kristen Cockrell, Grin Oral Care Expert, Dental Hygienist
All graphic images and visuals created by Sarah Liebkemann @sll.stories