We all know that brushing and flossing are essential to keep our teeth clean and healthy, but some areas are more difficult to reach, particularly the deep grooves of molar teeth. Here, bacteria can hide and cause cavities to form, even if we brush thoroughly. Tooth sealants are a great way to protect our teeth further and help keep them cavity-free.

What are sealants?

Sealants are a very thin layer of resin composite material that is applied as a protective coating to the teeth. As the liquid material is brushed on, it flows into the grooves and pits where cavities are more likely to develop. People with deeper grooves in their teeth are more susceptible to decay because it’s harder to brush away bacteria in these spots. This is where sealants come in as they provide a barrier to help prevent decay. Even if a small start of decay is present, sealing will stop it from becoming bigger and causing more damage. BPA-free sealants are available, so make sure your dentist is using the latest and safest materials possible. 

A quick, painless procedure

Typically, only the chewing surfaces of the molar teeth are sealed. To prepare teeth for the treatment, a dentist will apply an acidic gel to slightly rough up the surface to better bond with the sealant, then clean and dry the teeth. Finally, a curing light helps to harden the sealant. The sealant material is clear and so thin that it feels natural and does not affect the bite.

How effective are they?

Studies show that sealants are up to 80 percent effective in preventing cavities in back teeth, yet less than half of children in the US have sealants, so they are an underutilized tool in preventing tooth decay.1, 2 

How long do they last?

As they are thin, one issue with sealants is they can wear away with time and usually need to be replaced every few years, however, some sealants have been shown to last up to nine years. If someone had sealants placed as a child, they have most likely worn off by early adulthood, thus losing that protection they once had. 

Sealants can help adults, too

Sealants are not just for kids, though. The same issue of decay in deep grooves persists into adulthood. Adults 20-34 have more untreated molar tooth decay than any other group.3 It’s important to recognize that sealants can be applied on adults and offer a significant benefit well into adulthood. 

Especially in adults, sealants are underutilized as one of the best ways to help prevent tooth decay. 

While many people can benefit from sealants, some people do not have deep grooves in their teeth, so the effect would be less. Everyone, young and old, should be evaluated by a dentist to see if this easy, painless process can help you keep a cavity-free mouth. 

Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.

References available upon request.

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