Although brushing and flossing do a relatively good job of removing food particles and plaque from the smoother surfaces of teeth, a toothbrush can’t always effectively clean the deeper depressions and grooves on a tooth’s chewing surface. That, coupled with the fact that kids don’t always do the most thorough job of brushing, means molars are especially prone to tooth decay. Dental sealants, which are applied to the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars in the back of a child’s mouth, act as a long-lasting barrier to help prevent tooth decay. They’re made from a safe plastic material that protects teeth by shutting out plaque and bacteria.
Sealant application is a quick and simple process. After Dr. DiBenedetto cleans the affected teeth, she’ll apply a special gel to the chewing surfaces for a few seconds. She’ll then wash the gel off, dry the teeth, and paint on the sealant. Next, she’ll shine a special light on each sealant-coated tooth to help the material harden. It takes about a minute for the sealant to form a protective shield. Although sealants may be clear, white, or slightly tinted, they can only be seen upon close inspection, and aren’t generally visible from a normal distance.
It’s best for sealants to be applied to molars shortly after they’ve come in, before they have a chance to be affected by bacteria and decay. Because a child’s first molars erupt at about the age of 6, that’s when many children receive their first sealants. Second molars appear around age 12, requiring a separate sealant application. Done properly, sealants can last anywhere from 5 to 10 years. Once sealants are applied, Dr. DiBenedetto will check them during each routine exam to make sure they’re still in place. If they’re not, she can quickly reapply sealants as needed.
Although sealants are a quick, inexpensive, and effective form of preventive pediatric dental care, good oral hygiene habits are still essential to prevent cavities. Sealants are very thin, and their main job is to keep bacteria and decay out of the tiny grooves and pits on the chewing surface of molars. These surfaces, along with those that aren’t protected by sealants, still require brushing and flossing at least twice a day to protect them from tooth decay.