Save Your Teeth with Dental Sealants

Practicing good brushing techniques, flossing regularly and receiving fluoride treatments are great ways to reduce cavities and tooth decay. But there is another way for patients to reduce their risk of developing cavities by having dental sealants applied to their teeth. Dental sealants are a great way for patients to protect their teeth and are an option provided by many dentists across the United States.

Dental sealants are a valuable option for all patients but are even more valuable for some groups. One of the groups includes patients who do not have regular access to dental care because of lack of transportation or cost. Another group is those individuals with genetic predispositions to cavities and tooth decay, and those who have medical conditions that contribute to tooth decay, like diabetes. Children can also benefit greatly from dental sealants as they may have not yet developed proper brushing and flossing habits. Children are also especially prone because of the shape of their teeth, as brushes and floss may not clean around them properly.

Dental sealants are applied to the pits and grooves of the teeth. These pits and grooves are a natural part of the tooth’s design and can collect food debris as a normal part of chewing. If food debris is not removed through normal brushing and flossing and is allowed to sit in those pits and grooves, plaque and bacteria can grow and flourish. It is this bacterium that leads to cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal disease.

"Dental sealants are an excellent way to protect the teeth," says Dr. Amy Norman, D.D.S. Norman is an Everett, Washington dentist who provides her patients sealants and other preventative treatments. "They are a physical barrier against tooth decay." Furthermore, they have been proven to be effective; according to the American Dental Association, they reduce decay and cavities by nearly 80 percent. "An 80 percent reduction in cavities is a significant benefit to patients, especially those who are high risk for decay," says Norman.

Dental sealants are typically placed in the molars. Sealants are usually made of resin or ceramic. These materials bond easily with the tooth's enamel, guaranteeing a good seal on the tooth.

The application process for dental sealants is relatively quick, with most procedures taking around 30 minutes. Before the sealant material is applied, the tooth is cleaned and thoroughly dried. Once the tooth is dry, the dentist will use an acid wash to etch the tooth’s surface in order to facilitate a bond between the tooth and sealant. Some sealant material is able to cure on its own, but other types need ultraviolet light to promote hardening.

Dental sealants last on average for ten years. Dentists should check them regularly as part of dental checkups to make sure they are not cracked or worn down. Wear and tear on the sealant is much like wear and tear on natural tooth enamel, and chips and cracks can develop. If sealants become too worn or begin to lift, bacteria and food may lodge underneath and cause decay.

Even though dental sealants are so beneficial, not everyone takes advantage of them. According to the ADA, only 60 percent of middle-class income homes opt to get sealants. One theory behind this is that patients are simply unaware of the procedure, or their dentist may not offer sealants. Some dentists choose not to offer them because they may have concerns over their effectiveness. However, dentists like Norman recognize the important role sealants play in the protection of the teeth. "Sealants provide an added layer of protection, just like fluoride does, to help reduce decay and cavities," says Norman.

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