Dental sealants are compositions which are applied on teeth to protect them from developing dental cavities.
How do dental cavities appear in the mouth?
Dental cavities or dental caries is imbalance of minerals in mouth, affecting the surface of the teeth. Teeth are made up of minerals, mainly calcium. Minerals are produced in the mouth with the help of saliva and fluoride which are naturally found in the mouth. When we eat food, some of the sugars are digested in the mouth itself, and rest of the food is passed on to our stomachs.
The sugars in starchy or sticky and sugary foods remain in the mouth for longer period of time and gets coated on our teeth, more so on teeth which have uneven surfaces like the back teeth or molars. Theses sugars are fermented by the bacteria and turned into acids as a by product. This acid eats away on our teeth’s enamel and may work towards roots of teeth and gums. This whole process leads toward tooth decay and if not treated may lead to tooth loss.
Dental sealants are a preventive measure used to prevent cavities by coating the surface of the teeth with a thin transparent film made of a variety of materials suitable for such procedure.
Dental sealants offer the least invasive treatment in the approach in dental care and treatment adopted by dentists.
How do dental sealants work?
There are pits and fissures on the surface of our molars for breaking the foods into tiny particles so that it would be digested well. These pits are very useful while chewing, but can create trouble while not in use. After chewing the food, these pits become excellent places for food particles to stick on to. When these foods remain long enough in the mouth, they provide a good environment for bacteria to work on.
Dental sealants are applied to the teeth surface so that bacteria cannot reach the actual teeth. The most vulnerable teeth to fall prey to bacteria are the molars at the back of mouth, which are used for grinding the food. These very susceptible teeth for decay and are typically the ones that are targeted for using dental sealants on. When dental sealants are applied to these teeth, it is possible to stop the caries from going deep into the root of teeth. When the tooth is selected for applying the dental sealant, it is called early intervention because the dentist has taken steps to stop the caries going further down.
Dental sealant provides protection to the uneven surfaces of teeth which do not get enough natural protection from saliva. Dental sealants provide a physical barrier on the grooves of teeth. By giving a smooth surface, dental sealants makes it easier for the tooth brush to clean the surfaces.
Dental sealant materials
The sealant materials in use today are mainly made of composite resin spectrum or glass ionomer cement. Resin based sealants are very widely used and but glass ionomer cement is found to be more effective because of its fluoride releasing quality.
Dental sealants are accepted as very good preventive measure against cavities. As long as the sealant remains in place, stuck to the teeth surfaces, the protection will remain.
The adhesive materials that are used to attach sealants on to the teeth are responsible to keep them in place. What materials are used and how they have been applied are one of the factors in making sealants successful.
When sealants are being applied, the saliva should be kept in check. Salivary contamination during sealant application is the biggest hurdle in the success rate of sealants.
When sealants are used along with fluoride varnish, the success rate of both goes high.
Successful dental sealants
Factors that help higher rate of success in retaining sealants on the teeth are:
- Keeping saliva away from the affected tooth surface during the procedure.
- The technique of putting on sealants needs to be perfected with experience.
- Cleaning out the plaque and other debris from the tooth before application is of vital importance.
Duration and effectiveness of sealants
Usually, if applied properly the sealant lasts for long. Minimum 5 to 10 years are expected life of sealants. There are many variants of basic materials for sealants that are in use. The more durable and expensive materials can be expected to last for many years.
When are dental sealants used?
There seems to be a large number of children between 6 to 11 years have dental sealants applied to their teeth.
Why are dental sealants used so widely?
The use of dental sealants reduces the threat of cavities in a large numbers. School going children benefit a lot from use of dental sealants. It is estimated that those children who have not received dental sealant treatment are 3 times more at risk than children who have received this treatment.
How are sealants applied?
The application process is harmless and painless. The teeth are cleaned first by the dentist. An acidic gel is then placed on the teeth. The acid coarsens the surface so it becomes more ready to receive and strongly retain the sealant when applied. After a few seconds the tooth will be washed and the gel removed. Then the sealant is applied on the grooves of the tooth and dried with a special tool.
The sealants are made from harmless materials, and unless any individual has a particular allergy to the material sealant is made of, there are no side effects.
Some people worry about presence of BPA in sealants. But the amount of BPA is very small and will not have harmful effects on the patient.
Brushing and flossing is very important, but dental sealants are a helpful way to keep children and adults away from cavities.