If your child has the common misfortune of a cavity, it's probably on the chewing surface of a back tooth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) reports 80 to 90 percent of cavities occur on the chewing surfaces of permanent teeth, whereas 44 percent occur on baby teeth. But this type of cavity – sometimes called pit and fissure decay – can be prevented in children, adolescents and even adults with the placement of dental sealants.
How Sealants Prevent Decay
The depressions and grooves on children's back teeth help them chew and grind food. However, these deep crannies can also trap food and debris where it's difficult to keep clean, making them prime spots for decay to start. With sealants, a dentist applies a thin plastic material to the chewing surfaces of the molars, allowing the enamel to become smooth and protected from this source of bacteria.
Sealants can last up to 10 years, according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR). Although, if your dentist or dental hygienist notices any chips or worn areas on your child's sealants, he or she can repair them simply by adding more of this transparent material.
Which Teeth Should Be Sealed and When?
Any baby or permanent tooth that has deep pits or fissures is at risk for decay, and is therefore a candidate for a dental sealant, according to the AAPD. Many dentists recommend sealing baby molars because these teeth play an important role in holding space for the permanent teeth. Keeping these teeth cavity-free can prevent your child from losing them early.
The NIDCR suggests the ideal time to seal permanent molars is as soon as they come in – before they have a chance to decay. The first permanent molars erupt around 6 years of age, per the American Dental Association's (ADA) eruption chart, whereas the next teeth in line for sealants are second molars, which usually make an appearance between 11 and 13 years old. Your dentist may also advise sealing your child's premolars if they have deep grooves. These premolars erupt between ages of 10 and 11 and replace the baby molars.
Wisdom Teeth and Sealants
The last teeth to erupt into your child's mouth are the third molars – known as wisdom teeth – sometime between the ages of 17 and 21. As observed by the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), wisdom teeth are often not shaped like the other molars and, in many instances, do not have enough room to come in properly. In fact, nine out of 10 people have at least one impacted wisdom tooth. Most wisdom teeth can therefore be removed while the person is still a young adult, before these teeth cause problems and their roots are fully developed. This is primarily why sealants are not recommended for wisdom teeth.
Occasionally, however, someone's mouth is large enough to accommodate all four wisdom teeth in their proper position. In this case, if the dentist feels these teeth will be a functional part of your child's dentition, sealants may be a good option to prevent them from decaying.
Other Preventative Basics
Sealants are an important preventative measure to ensure your child's teeth are protected from decay, but you'll still want to enforce a few dental care basics. As always, brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste like Colgate® Enamel Health™ strengthens your child's teeth and makes them more resistant to decay. Flossing daily cleans where the toothbrush can't reach, preventing cavities from setting in between the teeth. In addition:
- Limiting sugary foods reduces the amount of decay causing acids.
- Seeing a dentist regularly for checkups helps identify potential dental problems early.
- Regular professional cleanings help prevent gum disease.
Dental sealants are a safe and lasting method of curbing tooth decay. Once the teeth are sealed, and your child is following the recommended home care, you can rest assured they'll enjoy a lifetime of good oral health.