Before and after childrens preventive dental sealants.
  Preventive Children's Dental Sealants

Overview

A dental sealant is a protective covering that is applied to the chewing surface of a tooth to prevent the formation of cavities. Sealants create a barrier so that bacteria cannot attack the chewing surfaces of the teeth. These are also called pit and fissure sealants, because they protect the pit and fissures or grooves on the chewing surface of teeth from cavities.

Need for Dental Sealants

Tooth decay occurs because of the bacteria existing in plaque. This plaque is formed when teeth are not brushed properly, and the longer it is allowed to remain on the surface of the tooth, the higher the chances that it will lead to a cavity. While brushing can remove some amount of plaque from the surface, some teeth are positioned such that they are more difficult to reach with a tooth brush. Molars for instance, are harder to clean, because the pits and fissures of the teeth can be deep. The plaque that is buried inside these grooves may not be eliminated by brushing, because the toothbrush bristles are too big to reach into the narrow grooves. The plaque that remains puts the tooth at risk for development of cavities. Using a plastic resin dental sealant, your dentist can protect the grooves of a tooth to create a smooth surface. Now all surfaces of the tooth are flat, and can be easily reached by a toothbrush.

Dental Sealants and Children

Children's teeth are especially susceptible to the accumulation of plaque, and the development of cavities because of the numerous pits and grooves on the chewing surface. Food debris can accumulate easily in these grooves, and bacteria can soon begin to form. Children aged between 4 and 17 are most at risk for this problem with pits and fissures. Premolars and molars contain the most number of pits and fissures, and can be hard to reach and clean with a toothbrush.

The first permanent molars begin to emerge when the child is about 6 years old. Protecting the surfaces of these teeth by placing sealants soon after the teeth erupt protects the teeth from the development of cavities. The second permanent molars begin to show themselves when the child is about 12 years old. Grooves in the chewing surfaces of the teeth now are as prone to cavities as the first molars. Children of this age therefore, also need dental sealants to protect their teeth.

To place a dental sealant correctly your dentist must keep the tooth dry. This means that the chewing surface of the teeth must be fully positioned, or erupted through the gums. This can't happen in children whose teeth are not yet fully erupted. Also, the child should be at an age when he can co-operate with the dentists to complete the procedure.

Procedure

Your dentist will make his recommendation for dental sealants on an individual basis. Generally, the teeth that are protected by sealants are the back teeth, especially the molars. They may be also be placed on baby teeth that have just erupted, and the procedure may be repeated over the years to repair any loss of the sealant through natural wear and tear of the teeth.

Your dentist will first clean your teeth, and dry them. The surface may be cleaned using a small brush that is inserted in the drill. Your dentist may also use an air abrasion technique to clean the bumps and grooves of the teeth. He will then apply an etching gel, that helps the sealant bond or adhere itself to the surface of the tooth. After a while, he will wash this gel off, and dry the tooth. The surface of the tooth that has been prepared will have a frosted look, similar to etched glass. Then, he will paint each tooth with the thin layer of the sealant. Once the sealant has been applied, your dentist will shine an intense curing light to harden the sealant. This curing light triggers off a catalyst that helps the sealant to harden. The sealant blends easily with the natural color of the tooth because it is clear or white in color. The dentist will then check your bite to ensure that the sealant is not too thick. If it is, he will buff it using a drill. Once the sealant is fully hardened, you can eat and drink immediately without any problems.

How Long do Sealants Last?

The amount of time your sealant can last can vary from person to person. Generally, a period of 3 to 5 years is considered successful. Sealants however, can last for much longer, and it's quite common to find sealants placed as children still existing in adults. While a sealant itself can last for many years, you may need to get it checked regularly and replace it in case of wearing out. Remember that a dental sealant is effective only as long as it is fully intact. If you notice parts of the sealant has come off, inform your dentist immediately. Your dentist will also check on the status of your sealants during your regular dental check ups.

Most often the reason for dislodging of a sealant is because the tooth was not dry enough at the time of applying the sealant. It can often happen that a child may not be cooperative enough, and therefore the dentist may not be able to keep the tooth as dry as necessary. It's very likely that, by the time the second dental sealant is applied, the child is older, and therefore, more likely to cooperate.

Recommendations for Dental Sealants

Your dentist is perfectly equipped to inform you about whether dental sealants are indicated. In some people, the natural shape of the pits and fissures puts them at higher risk for the development of cavities. For instance, if the pits and fissures in your teeth are narrow and deep, then you need dental sealants more urgently than people who have shallow and round grooves. Your dentist may also evaluate other conditions that reveal the amount of risk for tooth decay. He will look at the amount of dental plaque on the teeth, and the amount of decay the teeth have experienced earlier. He will also evaluate the patient's exposure to adequate amounts of fluoride, before recommending a sealant.

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