Taking your child to the dentist seems like it should be a pretty straightforward appointment: get in the dentist’s chair, get teeth counted and have them thoroughly flossed and cleaned. Maybe it will be time for a fluoride treatment or some x-rays to check for decay that isn't immediately visible. Sometimes, though, what you imagine to be a routine visit turns out to include techniques and recommendations that you aren't aware of — like dental sealant. We take the guesswork out of this common dental procedure with our helpful guide below.
What are dental sealants?
Dental sealants are one of the best tools in your dentist’s arsenal for keeping your child’s teeth strong and cavity-free.
When your dentist tells you they want to paint your child's teeth with dental sealant, he or she is going to cover the top of a tooth (the chewing surface) with a thin protective coating made of plastic or other dental materials. This coating quickly bonds to the all the nooks and crannies of your child's teeth to help keep cavities from forming.
How do they work?
Dental sealants are used by dentists to protect certain areas of the teeth that are more prone to decay. Typically, the surfaces that are targeted are the premolars and molars in the back of your child's mouth because they tend to be rough and uneven (and, therefore, more likely to collect bacteria) and can be more difficult to reach. This is especially true for children whose brushing techniques and fine motor coordination might make it challenging for them to do a thorough job.
Are they effective?
Research has proven that dental sealants are particularly effective at reducing decay on children's teeth during those years when they are most prone to this issue — typically between the ages of 6 to 14. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), decades of extensive research has shown that sealants are effective at reducing cavities. In fact, Jonathan Shenkin, a spokesperson for the organization, notes that when a resin-based sealant is used on six-year molars are much less likely to get cavities —a whopping 80% less likely, in fact.
Dental sealants are an effective method of protecting your child's vulnerable teeth. But while dental sealants can last for a decade or longer, they do need to be checked frequently for signs of cracks or wearing. Worn dental sealants can allow bacteria to get under them and potentially result in tooth decay.