After brushing and flossing religiously, and steering clear of sugary foods and drinks, you or your child may find yourself still prone to tooth decay. What dreadful outcome does that make you susceptible to? You guessed it: cavities.
We understand your pain and frustration. You go to all the hard work to improve your oral hygiene and prepare for your next dental appointment. The last thing you want is for the day to arrive when you sit back in the chair and get diagnosed with yet another cavity.
Thus, the feelings that follow are feelings of being judged for not doing your job correctly. And, as if that weren’t enough, you get the pleasure of enduring the numbing shot, the sounds of the drill that make you tense up, and the non-enticing aroma from the procedure.
It’s not something any of us look forward to. So, how can you keep your mouth healthy and seal out tooth decay (and ultimately cavities)?
Well, that’s a popular question we get asked a lot. That’s why we’re here to share the answer. Here’s a hint: it involves dental sealants.
What are dental sealants?
As the American Dental Association (ADA) explains, think of them as raincoats for your teeth. They’re painted on as a transparent or tinted liquid to prevent decay, which then hardens, forming a protective shield over the enamel on the tooth’s chewing surface.
And, they’re frequently applied to your back teeth—or, what are otherwise known as your premolars and molars. These teeth especially need extra protection because, thanks to the rough and uneven surfaces, it’s difficult for you to clean every nook and cranny of them with your toothbrush.
Therefore, germs and food can easily become trapped and stay comfortable in those small pits and grooves for a long period of time. That’s the moment tooth decay creeps in and lowers your chances of hearing these words at your next dental appointment, “No cavities! You’re good to go.”
Who should get them?
When it comes to dental sealants, many often associate them with patients who are children or young adults. Why? Because your first molars often appear around the age of six, and second molars around the age of 12. So, the earlier these teeth are sealed, the better the chances of keeping them decay-free during the cavity-prone years.
Despite that, adults can benefits from sealants too. That is, as long as your molars show little to no signs of decay and have yet to be in need of fillings.
How are sealants applied to teeth?
The process of applying the sealant to your teeth is generally quick and painless, and can be done within our office. Here are the exact steps as explained by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR):
- The tooth is cleaned.
- The tooth is dried, and cotton is placed around the tooth so that it remains dry.
- A solution is then placed on the tooth, which makes the surface slightly rough. Reason being, it makes it easier for the sealant to adhere to a somewhat rough surface.
- The tooth is rinsed and dried. After that, new cotton is placed around the tooth so that it continues to remain dry.
- Finally, the sealant is applied in liquid form, which hardens in a matter of seconds. Occasionally, a special blue light (known as a “curing” light) will be used to set the sealant.
- Once that happens, the sealant is in place and ready to begin doing its job—fighting off tooth decay and cavities.
Are sealants safe?
In recent years, it’s been said that exposure to BPA (bisphenol A) can be harmful and pose a variety of health risks. While some dental sealants may contain this industrial chemical, research conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA) Professional Product Review has proven that the BPA release is particularly low—.09 nanograms to be exact, which is well below the limit advised for a six-year-old child by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1 million nanograms per day) and the European Food Safety Authority (80,000 nanograms per day).
Additionally, that same research shows that a six-year-old child is exposed to more BPA from food and drinks; sunscreen, shampoo, body wash and other cosmetics; and air and thermal paper (such as cash register receipts) than from the amount that is in dental sealants.
All that to say, dental sealants continue to provide health benefits to children and young adults who are more susceptible to advanced decay and cavities despite good oral hygiene.
How long will they last and how much do they cost?
As soon as your sealants have been applied, the NIDCR estimates they can last you up to 10 years—with proper care, of course. There’s no need to worry about having them removed as they’ll wear down, bit by bit, over time. And, because of their hardened shell, they’ll hold up fairly well.
But, there are certain precautionary measures you can take to extend the life of them such as:
- Refrain from chewing on ice cubes or opening packages with your teeth. Doing these things will not only damage your pearly whites, but also your sealants!
- Don’t miss your regular checkups. That way, we can closely examine the sealants and reapply them if they appear to be wearing down more quickly than anticipated.
As for the investment of this preventive procedure, fortunately, some dental insurance plans will take on the cost of sealants. Be sure to check with yours to determine whether or not you’re covered!
Are there other ways to prevent tooth decay?
While sealants are evidently a superior way to prevent tooth decay, it’s important to remember that they’re not the only way. And, most notably, they’re not to be used as a replacement for your daily oral hygiene routine.
If you discover that you or your child is more prone to tooth decay and cavities, we recommend following these tips from the American Dental Association:
- Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste.
- Clean between your teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner.
- Eat nutritious and balanced meals, and limit snacking on sugary sweets and beverages.
- Drink fluoridated water (water is fluoridated in about half the cities and towns of the United States).
- If your water isn’t fluoridated, check with us about the use of supplemental fluoride (in the form of a gel, mouth rinse, or tablet), which can strengthen your teeth.
- Visit us regularly for professional cleanings and a proper oral examination.
Most importantly, as the NIDCR confirms, sealants + fluoride can prevent almost all tooth decay.
If you’d like to take this preventative measure to maintain good oral health, but are wondering whether or not you or your child are the right candidates for dental sealants, be sure to ask us during your next checkup. Or, call us today to get yours scheduled! Sealants may just be the solution you’re looking for to seal out tooth decay and keep your pearly whites sparkling.
Dr. Felicity is a National Board Certified Dentist and a Longtime resident of Charleston.