Preventive Care: Dental Sealants
Dental sealants offer a simple, but generally effective preventive solution to the problem of tooth decay occurring on the biting surfaces of back teeth. These sinuous biting surfaces represent the business end of the chewing apparatus, and must withstand considerable physical
stress; within the grooves of molars and premolars, fissures and pits may develop,
trapping food particles and keeping resident bacteria out of the reach of the most persistent toothbrush.
The ADA (American Dental Association) describes sealants as ‘barriers’ against cavity formation. Essentially, a dental sealant is a plastic coating which is applied over the grooves of back teeth, preventing dietary acids and acidic microbial waste products from demineralizing
the hard enamel layer. This preventive treatment mostly benefits children and teenagers, whose teeth must deal with the action of microbial plaque as soon as they erupt, but using sealants on adults can sometimes be practical as well.
Dental sealants are tools of prevention, and mistakenly applying them over incipient cavities will not stop the progress of decay. Used as they should be, sealants can ensure that fewer fillings will be needed over the course of a lifetime. Sealants are extremely resilient, and can
last for years. Dentists will check sealants during routine examinations, fixing or replacing as necessary. Although baby teeth can also be protected by sealing, children’s permanent back teeth, the first and second molars in particular, are most commonly targeted.
First molars erupt around the age of six or seven, premolars follow at about nine to 13 years old, while second molars typically arrive between 11 and 14 years of age; ideally, sealants should be applied as soon as the crowns of back teeth erupt through the gums, before decay has any chance of settling in. Sealant application is a simple, painless procedure: after
cleaning and preparing the tooth surface, the dentist ‘paints’ over the grooves a thin plastic film which quickly hardens into a tight-fitting cover.
Nevertheless, applying a dental sealant does require the patient’s willing cooperation, so performing the procedure on young children can sometimes be impracticable. Also, it is sadly not uncommon for parents to suspect dentists of being greedy and conjuring up the idea of
treatment for problem-free teeth, especially when their children practice good oral hygiene; tooth decay, however, has many other potential causes, including accidents, general health, nutrition, and genetic makeup.
Oral hygiene and dental sealants are complementary preventive solutions. While sealants do keep detritus and microbes out of dental grooves and fissures, this does not excuse the wearer
from having to brush and floss. Sadly, nor do sealants eliminate the need to regularly visit the dentist; like everything else within the mouth, dental sealants should be examined at least once a year, preferably every six months, and whenever you have any reason for concern regarding their condition.