All About Sealants

Dental sealants are an important tool dentists use to help prevent cavities and decay in the teeth in the back of your mouth.

What are dental sealants and what is the purpose of them?

Dr. John Vitale: Dental sealants are basically liquids that are comprised of clear resins, and what we do with them is place them on teeth and they protect the biting surfaces of teeth from decay.

How are dental sealants applied to the teeth?

Dr. John Vitale: It’s a very simple application. What the dentist or the hygienist will do is place a low percentage acid on the biting surfaces of virgin teeth, teeth that have no decay in them, usually in the posterior region of the mouth, like from bicuspids back. They wash off the acid etch that’s placed on the tooth and then they apply this sealant that bonds to the acid etch and covers the biting surface of the tooth.

Now, the liquid is very viscous. It goes into all the nooks and crannies of the biting surface of the tooth. Then we hit it with an ultraviolet light, to cure it and make it hard. Then over time, it wears, but the portions that go into the little nooks and crannies of the tooth do not wear. So, in effect, all the areas on the biting surface of the tooth that can get decay in them easily are protected by this clear film that we put on the tooth.

Should everyone get sealants? What is the most common age for getting sealants?

Dr. John Vitale: We generally start putting sealants in children’s mouths as their mouth and jaw starts to develop, as their teeth come in. For instance, when the six-year molar comes in, the first permanent tooth in the back of the mouth, we put a sealant on, and then as they get older and these other posterior or back teeth start to come in, we seal them all. So generally, from the bicuspid or the side teeth, all the way to the back of the mouth, we apply these sealants as the patient comes back and as the patient grows in age until all their permanent teeth are in their mouth.

Can sealants be placed over cavities?

Dr. John Vitale: That’s a good question. The answer to that question is yes. Often enough in dentistry, we have an incipiency. An incipiency, in layman’s terms, is very simple. It’s the beginning of tooth decay where the decay material has violated the outer surface of the tooth or the enamel and may just start to go into the second layer or doesn’t quite get into the second layer yet. In instances like that, what we do is we take an instrument or a burr, and we rough up that surface and get that decay out of it without going into the second layer of tooth, and then we place the sealant on it. That’s called an invasive sealant and they work really well. Instead of drilling a big hole in somebody’s mouth and placing a large filling in, you can do a sealant, and then obviously if the patient comes back every six months, you monitor their situation to make sure that they’re doing what they’re supposed to do and that what you’ve done stays in the mouth properly.

How long do sealants last and do they need to be reapplied?

Dr. John Vitale: We have seen in our clinical studies that they don’t last forever. They last probably anywhere from three to seven years depending on the individual, depending on eating habits, the types of food that they eat, meaning citrus or non-citrus and stuff like that. But generally, around five years we take a good look at them and then maybe one or two would have to be replaced. It’s a very, very simple procedure covered by almost all insurance companies, and generally parents are very acceptable to getting that done, because in the long run you’re saving a child’s tooth.

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