What are Sealants and do my Kids Really Need Them?
filed under PATIENT EDUCATION
The answer to this question is no. Children don’t need to have sealants placed on their teeth. But I guess this all depends on what your definition of the word needs is. Children don’t need to use toothpaste when they brush. A brush and some water will do some good. But using toothpaste will do a much better job.
Thus, it is with sealants. You may be okay without them but you will be much better off with them. The ADA recently published a study, among children, showing a 78% decrease in caries incidence (cavities) over a 2 year period when sealants were placed versus no sealants.
First of all, what is a sealant? A sealant is basically a small filling. The important difference between a filling and sealant is that a sealant is material placed on a tooth before decay happens in order to prevent a cavity. A filling is material placed on/in a tooth after the tooth has already sustained damage due to decay. The material used may even be the exact same material for the sealant or the filling.
This picture illustrates one tooth with a sealant and one tooth without. On the tooth with the sealant most of the natural tooth structure is still visible. The sealant material simply flows down into the nooks, crannies, grooves, and any other tiny crevices where bugs can hide and cavities can start. The material is placed on the tooth in a runny state and is then cured so that it is hard before you leave the office. Normal chewing can begin immediately.
The usual recipient of a sealant is a child getting their first adult molars (around 6 years old). More sealants are then placed over the second adult molars (around the age of 12). The reason sealants are normally only placed in children, and early teens, is to assist the child in keeping their teeth cavity free. Kids and early teens are not the greatest when it comes to controlling sugar intake or brushing.
Sealants will chip out as the years go by and are not a lifelong restoration. It is the hope that the sealants stay in long enough to get the individual to adulthood when they can then take better care of their teeth on their own. This is not to say that you can’t get the sealants put back in as an adult. Insurances won’t pay for them after your teens but it still would help. Sealants, like toothpaste, won’t stop cavities all by themselves. But, they are a great tool in the overall fight to keep you cavity free.