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What Is a Sealant?

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What Is a Sealant?
 

What Is a Sealant?

 

A dental sealant is a thin plastic film painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth to prevent cavities.

 

How effective are sealants?

 

Studies have proven that properly applied sealants are 100-percent effective in protecting the tooth surfaces from cavities. As long as the sealant remains intact, small food particles and bacteria that cause cavities cannot penetrate through or around a sealant. Sealant protection is reduced or lost when part or all of the bond between the tooth and sealant is broken. However, clinical studies have shown that teeth that have lost sealants are no more susceptible to tooth decay than teeth that were never sealed.

 

Why can't I just brush and floss?

 
While brushing and flossing help to remove food particles and plaque from smooth surfaces of teeth, toothbrush bristles often can't reach into the teeth's depressions and grooves. Sealants protect those areas and prevent food and bacteria from getting in.
 

How are sealants applied?

 

Your dentist can apply sealants easily, and it takes only a few minutes to seal each tooth. The dentist first cleans the teeth that will be sealed, which may require the use of a dental drill to open the grooves of the teeth and determine if decay is present. Then he or she will roughen the chewing surfaces with an acid solution, which will help the sealant stick to the teeth. The dentist then "paints" the sealant on the tooth. It bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. Sometimes your dentist will use a special curing light to help the sealant harden. Sealant treatment is painless and takes anywhere from five to 45 minutes to apply, depending on how many teeth need to be sealed. Sealants must be applied properly for good retention.

 

How long will a sealant last?

 

As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants hold up well under the force of normal chewing and usually last several years before a reapplication is needed. The risk of decay decreases significantly after sealant application. During your regular dental visits, your dentist will check the condition of the sealants and reapply them when necessary.

 

Who should receive sealant treatment?

 

Children, because they have newly erupted, permanent teeth, receive the greatest benefit from sealants. The chewing surfaces of a child's teeth are most susceptible to cavities. Surveys show that the majority of all cavities occur in the narrow pits and grooves of a child's newly erupted teeth because food particles and bacteria cannot be cleaned out. Other patients also can benefit from sealant placement, such as those who have existing pits and grooves susceptible to decay. Research has shown that almost everybody has a 95-percent chance of eventually experiencing cavities in the pits and grooves of their teeth.
 

Aren't sealants just for kids?

 
Decay can begin early in life, so dentists usually apply sealants to children's and teenagers' premolars and molars to protect them. But sealants can protect adults' teeth, too. Ask your dentist about sealants for your children or for yourself to see if they would be beneficial.

 

Are sealants covered by insurance?

 

Insurance benefits for sealant procedures have increased considerably, especially as companies start to realize that sealants are a proven preventive technique. This preventive measure can help reduce future dental expenses and protect the teeth from more aggressive forms of treatment.

 

Reviewed: January 2012

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