Pit and Fissure Sealants: Why You Might Need Them

You've heard the expression, "prevention is better than cure," and it has never been more true than in dental health. Avoiding damage to your teeth through sound oral care beats trying to fix problems after they arise. Pit and fissure sealants, for example, are one of several methods for staving off the decay that leads to dental caries.

Using glass ionomer or a similar bonding agent, these sealants can work particularly well in teens and young children, as newly or partially erupted teeth are often too moist to receive traditional adhesives, according to a report from The Journal of the American Dental Association.

Why Your Child Might Need Sealants

Even though pits and fissues do occur naturally, they can deepen over time, leading to dental caries, so a child whose teeth show signs of pits and fissures may be a prime candidate for dental sealants. Pits are small hollows that occur on the biting surfaces of permanent teeth, as described by the International Dental Health Foundation, whereas fissures are grooves in the outside of the tooth's surface. In both cases, these areas can easily fill with bacteria, which may be difficult to remove with regular oral hygiene.

As this bacteria grows, it interacts with the starches in the food you eat, turning them into acids that can eat away at tooth enamel. If this process causes enough decay, it eventually spreads to the inner pulp of the tooth. This can result in extremely painful and unsightly damage, which can cause lifelong dental problems.

How Sealants Work

Dental sealants work to coat and seal the grooves and hollows, preventing even the most the harmful bacteria from building up on the tooth. The size and depth of the hollows and grooves in your child's teeth will determine whether he or she can benefit from the application of a sealant. These sealants are typically used on the molars and premolars at the back of the mouth, as these are the teeth that most frequently develop surface irregularities.

Evaluating Your Child

A thorough dental evaluation of your child's new permanent teeth will determine whether or not they have pits and fissures and an increased risk exists for developing dental caries. Not all teeth that carry this condition require sealing, which is why a pediatric dentist can perform an analysis of these new teeth to see if it is necessary. Having identified if the pits and fissures are deep enough to warrant the application of a sealant, the dentist will give you this recommendation. Ultimately, however, it is up to the parent. You'll know it's urgent if you can see grooves and hollows on the surface of the back teeth.

Keeping Good Oral Hygiene

Until your child receives this vital evaluation, make sure he or she maintains good oral health. A regimen that consists of daily brushing, a product such as Colgate TotalSF Advanced Whitening toothpaste and diligent flossing will help to protect the teeth from an accumulation of germs. Keep in mind that fluoridated drinking water – available in most states – has greatly reduced the chances of new teeth developing bacterial problems. And after sealants are applied, it's just as important to maintain oral hygiene to prevent other problems from arising, both in and out of the mouth.

A Cost-Effective Option

Pit and fissure sealants are an underused option for the protection of molar teeth, particularly in lower-income populations. Costs vary according to the materials used. The price of sealant application is particularly cost-effective in high-risk populations, according to the Alliance for a Cavity-Free Future.

If your child has recently welcomed new permanent molar teeth, it's a good time to get them checked out to determine whether they would benefit from dental sealants.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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What to Expect During a SEALANT Procedure

Placing dental sealants is usually painless and doesn't require drilling or numbing medications.

  1. Tooth preparation – first, the dental hygienist will polish the surface of the tooth to remove plaque and food debris from the pit and fissure surfaces. Next the hygienist will isolate and dry the tooth. Then the hygienist will etch the surface of the tooth, rinse off the etching material and dry the tooth.

  2. Sealant application – the hygienist will apply the dental sealant material to the surface of the tooth with a brush; a self-curing light will be used for about 30 seconds to bond the sealant to the tooth surface.

  3. Evaluation – finally, the dental hygienist and dentist will evaluate the dental sealant and check its occlusion. Once the dental sealant has hardened it becomes a hard plastic coating, and you can chew on the tooth again.