Dental sealants are thin, plastic films bonded to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth-- the molars and premolars. They are very effective in the preventing tooth decay (cavities). Dental sealants are particularly effective on the back teeth, as they contain more hard-to-reach pits and grooves that serve as a host to food debris and bacteria.
The sealants act as a physical barrier to decay and bacteria, in most cases, they provide 100% protection, as long as they stay intact. In addition, research has shown that sealants actually stop cavities when placed on top of a slightly decayed tooth. This action seals off the supply of nutrients to the bacteria that causes the cavity. The dental sealant becomes ineffective when all or part of the bond between the tooth and the sealant is broken.
Sealants are most helpful for children because their newly erupted, adult (permanent) teeth are most at risk for cavities and least helped by fluoride. According to the CDC, sealants should be used as part of a child's total preventive dental care. But the CDC reports about only 30% of children between ages 6 and 19 have dental sealants. A complete preventive dental program includes:
Good home care
Careful food choices
Regular dental care
Young adults can also benefit from dental sealants.
In addition, sealants help keep teeth healthy. Each time a tooth is filled due to tooth decay, more tooth structure is lost. Fillings last an average of 6 to 8 years. After that time they need to be replaced. Therefore, sealants often save time, money, reduce the discomfort of dental treatment procedures, and keep the tooth healthy.
The procedure starts with cleaning the surface of the tooth, rinsing the surface to remove all traces of the cleaning agent, and drying the tooth. An acidic solution or gel is applied to the surface of the tooth, including the pits and grooves, to make the surface of the tooth rough. After several seconds, the solution is thoroughly rinsed away with water and the site is dried. The liquid sealant is then applied and allowed to harden, or hardened with a special blue light (curing light).
With correct oral hygiene, sealants may last 5 to 10 years. If sealants are chipped or lost, they can easily be reapplied.
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