Over the last twenty years, awareness of the importance of applying dental sealants has increased. Yet many parents who did not undergo this procedure in their youth may need to educate themselves to gain a certain level of comfort before bringing in their own children for the procedure. A pediatric dentist or dental hygienist will be able to answer specific questions about sealants, but a basic understanding of their purpose and how they help to protect teeth will also help you to make an informed decision.
What Is a Dental Sealant?
A dental sealant is a protective barrier placed on children's teeth for the purpose of sealing out food and bacteria which result in cavities. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), "sealant placement in children and adolescents has shown a reduction of cavities' incidence [by] 86 percent after one year and 58 percent after four years." Sealants used in conjunction with a comprehensive dental care routine that includes proper brushing, flossing, fluoride treatments and a healthy diet, will help maintain dental health. While brushing and flossing are critical components of any dental health regimen, sealants provide additional protection for the grooved areas of teeth from what is known as pit and fissure decay.
Which Teeth Should Be Sealed and When?
The number of teeth that should be sealed depends on your child's incidence towards dental caries. The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that the primary biting teeth, which are the 6- and 12-year-old molars, be sealed. Every tooth, however, is susceptible to cavities. For maximum protection, dental sealants should be applied as soon as possible after permanent tooth eruption. This would be around age 6 for most children.
Who Applies Dental Sealants?
Sealants are placed during an office visit by a trained dental professional (dental hygienist, dentist). Prior to application, teeth should be properly cleaned and examined. The tooth is dried, a material is placed onto the tooth, then rinsed and dried off. Next, the sealant material is placed on the biting surface of the tooth and a special light is placed above the tooth to harden the sealant into the tooth surface. This procedure is usually is quick and painless; the child will need to stay still during the appointment.
The (ADA) recently released a statement responding to patient concerns regarding the possibility of Bisphenol A (BPA) in dental sealants. The ADA statement referred to a 2008 report prepared by the National Toxicology Program that said dental sealant exposure to BPA "is considered an acute and infrequent event with little relevance to estimating general population exposures." The ADA further stated that the benefits of cavity avoidance resulting from sealants greatly outweigh any low-level exposures to BPA. Even so, if you are concerned about BPA exposure, speak with your child's dentist before the application of dental sealants, or request a BPA-free certified brand.