The biting surfaces of our back teeth are not flat but full of deep pits, fissures, crevices and grooves. Those very fine nooks and crannies are not accessible by brushing and flossing. So those vulnerable areas of the teeth can trap food debris and plaque that can develop into cavities eventually. Then a filling, an inlay, an onlay or a crown is needed to treat the decay, depending on the size and location of the cavity. If the cavities are not treated, they will continue to progress in size and depth until the teeth start to hurt, regardless of how much brushing and flossing you do at home.
The best medicine (or in this case dentistry) is to prevent the cavities from happening. Preventative dentistry includes proper dental home care (meticulous brushing, flossing and the use of fluoridated toothpaste), low sugar and acid diets, prevention of trauma to the teeth and jaw (like sport guards and bruxism night guards) and regular dental visits with your dentists. Another excellent preventative dentistry is the application of dental sealant on molars and premolars soon after they are fully erupted.
Dental sealant is a thin, plastic coating applied into the pits and grooves in the chewing surfaces of the back teeth like molars and premolars — to prevent tooth decay. The sealant quickly bonds into the depressions and grooves of the teeth, forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth. Most occlusal sealants are fluoride releasing which can further protect the pits and fissures from cavities because of the bactericidal and re-mineralizing properties.
Studies have shown that sealants can reduce the risk of decay by nearly 80% in molars. This is especially important when it comes to your child’s dental health. Based on the report from Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, “school-age children without sealants have almost three times more cavities than children with sealants.”
Because of the likelihood of developing decay in the pits and fissures of the premolars and molars, children and teenagers are candidates for sealants. However, adults with deep pits and depressions in their molars can also benefit from sealants.
Typically, children should get sealants on their permanent molars and premolars as soon as these teeth come in. In this way, the sealants can protect the teeth through their cavity-prone years of ages 6 to 14 and into the late teenage years.
Dental sealants may also be appropriate for baby or primary teeth, when a child’s baby teeth have deep depressions and grooves or have very shallow cavities. Because baby teeth play an important role in holding the correct spacing for permanent teeth to grow into, it is important to keep these teeth healthy so they are not lost too early.
Applying sealant is a simple and painless process. It takes only a few minutes for your dentist or hygienist to apply the sealant to seal each tooth. The application steps are as follows:
- First the teeth that are to be sealed are cleaned with a very fine bur to ream out any debris and plaque in the bottom and the walls of the pits and fissures. The teeth are then thoroughly scrubbed with pumice slurry using a rotary brush with fine bristles.
- Each tooth is then dried, and conditioned with mild acid gel applied into the nooks and crannies.
- After about 10 seconds, the teeth are then washed and dried thoroughly to get rid of the acid gel.
- Sealant is then applied into the pits and grooves, and onto the tooth enamel. it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. Sometimes a special curing light is used to help the sealant harden.
Sealants can protect teeth from decay for up to 10 years or longer, but they need to be checked for chipping or wearing at regular dental check-ups. Your dentist can replace sealants as necessary.
The cost of applying an occlusal sealant is only a fraction of the cost of having a filling. Not to mentioned about the benefits of having a cavity free tooth that will likely last for life.
With the exception of an allergy that may exist, there are no known side effects from sealants.
At Affinity Dental Care, Dr. Wong has administered occlusal sealants to a lot of his young patients to prevent cavities from happening in the last 30 years. He has personally seen the great results in preventing cavities in those teeth that were sealed and protected by occlusal sealant.