Even someone with a fastidious dental hygiene routine can be at risk for cavities. Certain people are simply more prone to dental caries due to the shape and structure of their teeth – not because they don't brush regularly. If your dentist notices you (or someone in your family) is prone to advanced decay despite good oral hygiene, he or she may suggest using dental sealants to help keep the teeth healthy.
Of course, concerns are normal: How long do sealants last? Will the application hurt? Here's a little more about why dental sealants may be a great option for a cavitiy-prone individual.
Why Dental Sealants?
Dentists don't suggest sealants to all of their patients. Rather, they're usually reserved for individuals who are especially prone to cavities, such as teens and young kids – including those who still have baby teeth. Sealants are designed to fill the deep pits and grooves of your molars, which are uniquely susceptible to caries because they're known to trap food particles in these areas of the teeth. When bacteria become trapped in this way, it's often a recipe for cavities, so the sealants protect the tooth from caries altogether.
Applying sealants before decay starts, as noted by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), allows the sealant to block the area of bacteria and food particles from attaching to the surface of the teeth.
Will They Hurt?
It's understandable to be nervous about a dental procedure with which you have no prior experience. But dental sealants are virtually painless. The majority of them are made with liquid resin, which is then brushed onto the teeth so it can harden. The process only takes a few minutes, including application and drying. In fact, the procedure may be on offer in the dental center of some schools.
Once applied, the resin dries into a hard, plastic-like material in just a few seconds or when using a light to cure the sealant material. The material is invisible and won't feel any different than the surfaces of your natural teeth.
How Long Do Sealants Last? Can I Extend Their Wear?
Once your sealants have been applied, the NIDCR estimates they can last up to 10 years with proper care. You won't have to have them removed; instead, sealants gradually wear away over time, allowing you to receive new sealants as needed. Nonetheless, their hardened plastic material holds up remarkably well as long as you avoid behavior that puts undue stress on your teeth – such as using your teeth to open tough food packaging.
Once your sealants have been applied, your dentist will check on them each time you come in for a cleaning. He or she can even reapply if they seem to be wearing faster than usual, just to make sure your teeth are protected from the bacteria that can calcify into tartar when you're not in the dentist's chair.
Keep in mind sealants aren't the only way to ward off cavities, and are definitely not a substitute for regular oral care. If you or your child is especially prone to cavities, use products such as Colgate® Cavity Protection, which contains sodium monofluorophosphate fluoride – proven to protect teeth from the common cavity.
If you're wondering if dental sealants are the right choice for you or your child, ask your dentist about them during your next checkup. Provided you're the right type of candidate, sealants may be an excellent solution for warding off cavities and keeping your smile healthy.