Dental sealants are one great defense against tooth decay or cavities. Tooth decay is one of the more common problems that dentists encounter. According to the CDC, around 90% of adults over the age of 20 will experience a cavity in their lifetime, and many adults will experience more than one. Tooth decay often begins causing problems even earlier than adulthood too, as more than half of adolescents develop dental caries and require professional treatment. Getting a dental sealant can help prevent tooth decay and even stop early dental caries in its tracks.
How do dental sealants help defend against cavities?
To understand how a sealant helps protect you from tooth decay damage, you need to understand what tooth decay is and how it can lead to a hole in your tooth called a cavity.
What is tooth decay?
Tooth decay is damage that occurs to tooth enamel or the hard outer shell of natural teeth. You may hear your dentists refer to tooth decay as dental caries or cavities. The damage to your teeth takes place when decaying bacteria on the surface of a tooth mixes with the acids in the foods and drinks that you consume. When the acid and bacteria mix they react and create tiny fissures and pockets in your tooth’s enamel. When left untreated, these will grow and develop into holes in your enamel that allow access to the inner dentin and sometimes even the pulp of your tooth. These holes are often commonly called cavities.
Why are cavities a problem?
Cavities are a serious dental issue because they are permanent damage to your teeth that require professional intervention before they lead to worse issues. When left untreated, cavities can allow worse infections into the inner portions of your teeth or spread to other portions of your teeth and mouth. They can even lead to jawbone infections, blood infections, gum disease, and tooth loss. Cavities also tend to be painful and can cause issues with the feeling and function of your teeth.
What are dental sealants?
A dental sealant is a thin coating that dentists apply to the occlusal surface, or top, of molar and premolar teeth. Sealants are made of plastic resin or glass ionomer materials and can easily be placed in one visit. Dentists first paint them on, then bond and harden them to your teeth. The sealants cover and protect your back teeth by creating a barrier between the top portion of your teeth and the bacteria and acids that cause tooth decay. They are generally simple to apply, immediately effective, and long-lasting. If and when they do fall off or wear away, they can also easily be replaced, thereby ensuring that your teeth remain protected.
How can dental sealants help?
Tooth decay issues are particularly prevalent in your molars and premolars, where the chewing surfaces of your teeth provide better hiding spots for plaque buildup and are harder to clean effectively by brushing and flossing. Sealants are especially effective at covering over and defending these highly susceptible areas. When combined with proper brushing, flossing, and rinsing habits, a tooth sealant can help prevent tooth decay from ever having the chance to settle and damage a tooth in the first place. Sometimes, they can even be good options to help stop early dental caries from becoming a worse issue later on.
Who should consider dental sealant treatment?
Almost every dental patient can benefit from the application of dental sealants. Many dentists particularly recommend early sealant treatment to keep cavities from ever having the chance to occur. For this reason, they are commonly placed on the molars and premolars of children and adolescents once their permanent back teeth fully come in, which is usually between the ages of 6 and 12. Other individuals who notably benefit from dental sealant treatment include patients who:
- Are on specific medications that weaken tooth enamel
- Take medicines that cause dry mouth
- Have been diagnosed with eating disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia
- Are genetically predisposed to cavity issues
- Do not have access to sufficient amounts of fluoride
- Suffer from heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Provided you continue to practice good oral hygiene habits, getting a dental sealant can be a great way to keep you from developing a cavity. These slim, defensive covers for your teeth can help prevent tooth decay entirely or help protect an already damaged tooth if caught early enough. If you worry about getting dental caries, suffer from frequent tooth decay, or are concerned about your child developing cavities, dental sealants may provide the peace of mind and mouth you need.
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