Tooth decay is the most wide-spread dental problem among children and young adults. However, your dentist can help prevent or reduce the incidence of decay by applying sealants to your child's teeth.
What is a Sealant?
A Sealant is a plastic material that is applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, where decay occurs most often. This sealant acts as a barrier, protecting the decay-prone areas of the back teeth from plaque and acid.
Why are Sealants Necessary?
|When the back teeth are developing, depressions and grooves form in the chewing surfaces of the enamel. These irregularities are called pits and fissures. They are impossible to keep clean, because the bristles of a toothbrush cannot reach into them (diagram below). Therefore, pits and fissures are snug places for plaque and bits of food to hide. By forming a thin covering over the pits and fissures, sealants keep out plaque and food, and thus decrease the risk of decay.
Who should have Sealants Applied?
Children receive the greatest benefit from having sealants applied to their teeth, especially to newly erupted permanent teeth. Sealants are recommended for all children, after the age of ten, even those who receive topical applications of fluoride or who live in communities with fluoridated water. Fluoride helps fight decay on the smooth surfaces of the teeth, and is not so effective in the pits and fissures.
How are Sealants Applied?
Each tooth takes only a few minutes to seal. First, the teeth to be sealed are cleaned and then chemically treated to help the sealant adhere to the teeth. Finally, the sealant is brushed on the tooth enamel and allowed to harden by exposing it to ultra-violet light.
|This photograph shows one tooth treated with sealant, while in the other tooth the process of decay has started.
Do Sealants need to be Replaced?
When sealant is applied, finger-like strands penetrate the pits and fissures of the tooth enamel. Although the effect of the sealant cannot be seen with the naked eye, the protective effect of these strands continues. As a result, it may be several years before another application of sealant is needed. Re-application of the sealant will continue its protection against decay and may save the time and expense of having a tooth restored. Sealants are checked during your child's regular dental recall visit to determine if re-application is necessary.
It is recognized the world over that sealants can play an important role in the prevention of tooth decay. When properly applied and maintained, they can successfully protect the chewing surfaces of your child's teeth. A total prevention program includes regular visits to your dentist, the use of fluoride, daily brushing and flossing, and limiting the number of times sugar-rich foods are eaten. If these measures are followed and sealants are used on your child's teeth as well, the risk of decay can be reduced or may even be eliminated !