Dental cavities are one of the most common health conditions to affect children. Encouraging your child to brush and floss and taking them to the dentist for regular checkups will go a long way towards reducing their risk of cavities. But often, even these methods aren’t enough.
Your child’s back molars are particularly at risk for decay due to the deep grooves in their chewing surfaces. Since children are not always very thorough when brushing their teeth, plaque and food particles that accumulate in these grooves don’t always get removed. Bacteria then accumulate, leading to decay. Luckily, you can help your child keep food particles and bacteria out of these grooves: invest in dental sealants.
Dental Sealants: An Overview
Dental sealants are plastic-like overlays that form a barrier between your child’s molar and the inside of their mouth. The sealant material starts off as a liquid. Once it’s painted onto the chewing surface of the tooth, it hardens, becoming impervious to bacteria, saliva, and food particles. The sealant keeps bacteria from accumulating in the tooth’s crevices, so cavities don’t form.
Sealants are most often placed on the six and 12-year molars, since these teeth have the deepest grooves. It’s best to have them applied as soon as possible after these teeth erupt. So, you should have sealants applied to your six-year-old’s new molars as soon as they appear. When he or she is about 12 years old and four more teeth come in, you can then have sealants applied to these teeth.
The Application Process for Dental Sealants
Though children are sometimes a bit apprehensive about having sealants applied, the process is quick and completely painless. The dentist will start by cleaning the tooth to remove any bacteria and debris from its surface. A drill or file may be used to roughen up the surface of the tooth. Since only the very surface of the tooth is filed away, your child won’t need anesthesia. All your child will feel is a little vibration.
Once the tooth is clean and filed, the dentist will apply an etching gel to the chewing surface of the tooth. This helps ensure the sealant material adheres properly. After the etching liquid has a minute or so to work, the dentist rinses it away and dries off the tooth. Then, he or she applies the sealing material to the chewing surface of the molar using either a brush or a tiny syringe. The dentist uses a curing light to harden the sealant, and the process is complete.
Your child may experience a sour or unpleasant taste in his or her mouth after having sealants applied, but your child can eat and drink normally as soon as the procedure is over.
The Effectiveness of Dental Sealants
The sooner dental sealants are applied to a new molar, the more protection they offer. The CDC has reported that children with sealants have less than one third as many cavities as children without sealants. Furthermore, sealants are said to protect against 80% of cavities in the two years after they are applied.
Sealants don’t last forever. They typically fall out on their own within about 10 years. By this time, your child’s tooth brushing habits should have improved, so their risk of developing cavities in the deep grooves of their molars will be lower. If the sealants become damaged or fall out before your dentist feels your child is ready to let them go, they are easy to repair or replace.
Common Risks and Concerns Associated With Dental Sealants
Dental sealants are incredibly safe and do not cause any side effects. They have been used since the 1960s, and their safety and effectiveness have been thoroughly evaluated by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, as well as other agencies.
Some parents worry about the safety of dental sealants because they contain Bisphenol A, or BPA. This compound made headlines in 2008 when studies suggested it may increase the risk of certain cancers. However, the FDA states that BPA is safe at the low levels to which humans are frequently exposed, and dental sealants only contain a tiny, tiny amount of BPA. Your child would be exposed to more BPA when touching a receipt than when getting sealants.
Dental sealants present essentially zero risk to your child, but they will benefit him or her for life by preventing cavities from forming during childhood. However, since sealants only protect the areas to which they are applied, you’ll still need to make sure your child brushes thoroughly, sees the dentist for regular cleanings and checkups, and consumes a healthy diet that’s low in sugar.
Make an appointment with your child’s dentist to learn more about sealants and other preventative dental care. Contact Apollo Dentistry, and we can help you keep your child’s teeth healthy.