What Exactly Are Dental Sealants for Kids?

While establishing good brushing and flossing habits is a well-known way to prevent cavities and maintain good oral hygiene in children, parents may not know about another valuable tool in fighting cavities – dental sealants. So what exactly are dental sealants, and how do they help keep your kiddo cavity free? Here are the top 5 things you need to know about dental sealants and kids. 

1.  Where Do Dental Sealants Go? 

Dental sealants are applied to the chewing surfaces, also called grooves or crevices, of the back teeth (premolars and molars).  The grooves and crevices are where most cavities in children develop – it’s really hard to clean these rough and uneven areas! And to make matters worse, these surfaces are highly susceptible to germs and cavity-causing bacteria when food particles (especially sugars) are trapped inside of them.  Even the most dedicated and thorough brushers can have trouble keeping premolars and molars clean. Dental sealants act as a barrier to food, plaque and bacteria, and protect the grooves and crevices of the back teeth. 

2. What Are Dental Sealants Made of? 

Dental sealants are made of a medical grade resin, and are similar to composite, or white filling material, used when patients have cavities filled.  However, dental sealants are runnier than filling material. (Think white finger nail polish, but made for teeth). When sealants are applied, they will easily flow into even the tiniest grooves and crevices in your kiddo’s premolars and molars. 

3. Are Dental Sealants Safe?

Yes, dental sealants are absolutely safe for your kiddo! Most modern sealant materials are BPA-free, and because sealants are bonded to the outside of the tooth, nothing goes inside the tooth.  And the procedure to apply dental sealants poses minimal risk to your child and is a great non-invasive way to protect their back teeth from decay and potential cavities. In fact, applying dental sealants does not require the use of numbing agents or anesthesia because it isn’t painful or even uncomfortable. There is also no drilling required, which is definitely a good thing!

4. How Are Dental Sealants Applied? 

Sealants are placed during a routine office visit by a either a dental hygienist or a dentist.  There are three simple steps: 

1. Teeth should be properly cleaned and examined to make sure that there are no existing cavities in the teeth to be sealed. 

2. The teeth are dried and an acidic gel is placed on them. This gel “roughs up” the tooth surface so that a strong bond can be formed between the tooth and the sealant.  The gel is rinsed off and the teeth are dried once again. 

3. The sealant material is applied to the biting surface (grooves) of the teeth to be sealed with a small brush. A special, blue LED light is then placed above the tooth to harden the sealant and bond it to the tooth. The dried sealant leaves a hard layer of protection over the tooth.

5. Do Dental Sealants Really Work? 

Yes! According to the American Dental Association (ADA), dental sealants reduce your child’s risk of cavities by 80%. This is because dental sealants are designed to keep germs, food, and plaque from settling in those hard-to-clean back teeth.  Another study compared school-aged children with and without sealants. This study showed that kids without sealants were three times more likely to have cavities than those who had sealants. In the same report, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also noted that dental sealants have the potential to save $300 million in dental costs around the country.

Most pediatric dentists recommend that kids get dental sealants on their teeth as soon as their permanent molars erupt. This helps to prevent cavities from the very beginning of the arrival of those premolars and molars. 

However, it is important to note that dental sealants are typically designed to protect your kiddo’s teeth for up to 10 years. So, during their regular check-ups, your pediatric dentist will check the sealants and let you know if they are damaged and need to be repaired.  And don’t worry if they do need a bit of repair work – it’s an easy and quick task for your kiddo’s pediatric dentist. 

Applying dental sealants has become the standard of care among most pediatric dentists.  Combined with a good brushing and flossing routine, a healthy diet and regular dental check-ups, the application of dental sealants is an easy and pain-free way to help keep your kiddo cavity-free.

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