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Three Things You Should Know About Dental Sealants

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What if there were a simple, affordable, and painless way to prevent the majority of cavities? Would you jump at the chance to protect your children's teeth – or your own teeth, for that matter – from decay? Would you be surprised to find out that there already is such a thing, and that it's been around – but underutilized – for decades? Take a look at a few things that you should know about dental sealants and why you should ask your dentist about them.

What Are Dental Sealants?

If you haven't heard of dental sealants before, you're missing out. Dental sealants are a thin, plastic covering that covers the tooth and acts as a barrier against sugars, acids, and bacteria that contribute to tooth decay.

Dental sealants have been around in some form or another for a long time. The earliest sealant material emerged in 1966, although the material used, methyl cyanoacrylate, was prone to bacterial breakdown and not as effective as dental researchers had hoped. The precursors to modern dental sealant formulas were created in the 1970s. The most current versions of dental sealants contain fluoride, increasing their tooth health benefits.

Dentists apply dental sealant material to the teeth by brushing it on in liquid form. It then hardens on the tooth's surface, sometimes with the help of a light that activates a chemical reaction. Once in place, the sealant remains on the enamel, sealing out some of the main causes of tooth decay, for years before they need to be reapplied.

How Effective Are Dental Sealants?

As a cavity prevention strategy, dental sealants are highly effective. They're able to prevent around 80 percent of cavities. Typically, sealants are applied to the molars and premolars in the back of the mouth. They are placed there because these teeth are the ones that do the bulk of the chewing. They have more contact with food particles than other teeth.

Molars and premolars also tend to have pits and grooves that are hard to clean out effectively with a toothbrush. Saliva in the mouth tends to wash away decay-causing substances that settle on flat, even tooth surfaces, but it isn't as effective at clearing away particles that settle in pitted areas of the teeth, which is why cavities are more common in those areas.

Despite the effectiveness of dental sealants and the fact that they're recommended by organizations such as the American Dental Association and the CDC, they aren't as widely used as you might think. Currently, only about 60 percent of children get dental sealants, even though they're far less expensive than treating cavities after they form.

Who Can Benefit From Sealants?

Dental sealants are typically touted as an important part of children's dental care, and ideally, they should be a routine part of your child's preventative dental care regimen. However, anyone at any age can benefit from dental sealants. Tooth decay can occur at any age, and adults often have risk factors for decay that children don't have, such as chronic illnesses, prescription medication use, or just years of wear and tear – all of which can contribute to tooth decay.

Dental sealants are safe and affordable, and all dental patients should consider whether sealants might be right for them. In particular, patients who have additional risk factors for tooth decay or who have been more susceptible to cavities in the past should definitely consider having dental sealants applied to reduce their risk of future cavities.

Investing in preventative dental care now can save you and your children the pain and expense of restorative dental procedures later, and dental sealants are a particularly effective form of preventative dentistry. Make an appointment with your dentist to find out if dental sealants are a good choice for your family.