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Preventing and halting tooth decay with sealants

One of the most common spots for tooth decay to develop is on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, also known as the premolars and molars. If you run your tongue along the chewing surfaces, you will feel rough grooves. The grooves, which are called pits and fissures, help to grind food.

Daily brushing and flossing help remove food particles and bacteria from the smooth surfaces along the sides of and between the teeth. However, pits and fissures are more difficult to keep clean. Toothbrush bristles cannot reach into the microscopic grooves to remove tiny particles of food or plaque.

Because pits and fissures are difficult to keep clean, your dentist may recommend protecting them with dental sealants, a special plastic coating that covers and seals the chewing surfaces. Sealants act as a barrier, protecting tooth enamel from plaque bacteria and acid.

Dentists have used sealants to protect teeth for several decades. They are safe and effective in preventing tooth decay. The likelihood of developing tooth decay on the chewing surfaces begins early in life, so children and teenagers are obvious candidates for sealants. Adults also can benefit from sealants, because one never outgrows tooth decay.

New research shows that dental sealants not only protect healthy teeth from decay, but they also can stop decay in its earliest stages, sealing in the bacteria and preventing a cavity that otherwise would require a restoration (filling).

The procedure is simple and quick with little, if any, discomfort. First, the dentist thoroughly cleans and prepares the teeth to be sealed. The dentist then applies the sealant to the tooth's chewing surface, where it bonds with the enamel. He or she may use a special curing light to help the sealant harden. The procedure requires one short visit.

As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth's chewing surface will be protected from decay. Sealants, which hold up well under the incredible force of everyday chewing, may last for years before a reapplication is needed. However, no two mouths are the same, and chewing or grinding can cause sealants to wear at different rates. Regular dental visits are important so that your dentist can check the sealant and reapply it as needed.

Talk with your dentist to determine if dental sealants can help protect your teeth.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

3/10/2008

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