Have you heard about dental sealants? These preventive treatments have been available for many decades, and more and more children are taking advantage of them. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that around 30% of kids from 6 to 11 years of age have had sealants applied to their molars (back teeth). Sealants are designed to reduce the incidence of cavities by filling in or eliminating the pits or crevices found in all molars, where decay-causing bacteria can hide and your brush can't reach. But do they really work?
Now, the research is in, and the answer is clear — YES!
Two major studies, each of which reviewed the results of thousands of patients over several years, recently came to the same conclusion: Dental sealants are effective at reducing cavities, and their benefits can last for four years (or more) after application. In general, the studies showed that kids who didn't get sealants were twice, three times, or even more likely to get cavities, compared to kids treated with sealants.
Sealants themselves are protective coatings made of plastic resins or glass-like materials. They are applied in liquid form, and then hardened by a special light. When “painted on” to the chewing surface of a molar, sealants fill in the tiny crevices, or “pits and fissures,” that are found there. Uneven tooth surfaces form a perfect breeding ground for the bacteria that cause tooth decay; worse yet, the bristles of a tooth brush can't usually reach them. That's what makes these areas highly susceptible to tooth decay.
Applying sealants is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require any numbing shots or drilling. Many kids start getting sealants when the first permanent molars come in, around age 5 to 7; they may have more sealant treatments when additional molars emerge, between the ages of 11 and 14.
Sealants are recommended by the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and have only a modest cost per tooth. On the other hand, having a cavity filled generally costs substantially more, and may result in more trouble (and expense) down the line — so sealants can make sense economically, as well as preventively. This is especially true for those at high risk for tooth decay.
If you have questions about dental sealants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sealants for Children,” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”