Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings that are applied to the facing surfaces of the molars, or back teeth, to keep them from tooth decay. They are best applied the first time in children between the ages of five and seven years old, as the adult molars come in. Another application around the age of 12 covers the second molars. Molars are particularly susceptible to tooth decay because they naturally have so many pits and grooves, which provide a great place for plaque and food particles to hide from a tooth brush. Dental sealants fill in some of that surface area, preventing plaque from living there, and thereby making decay in the most cavity prone areas of the mouth very unlikely.

Sealant application is simple to apply in theory. The tooth is cleaned, and a special gel is applied to the chewing surface of the molar and allowed to sit there for a few seconds. This gel allows the sealant to adhere. The gel is rinsed off, the tooth is dried, and the sealant is painted on the tooth. Some sealant types are set with a special light to harden it, which usually takes about a minute.

Sealants are almost invisible, and won’t affect the aesthetics of a child’s smile. Since they are applied to the molars, what visibility they may have is concealed by their location. They are clear, white, or very slightly tinted. They are almost undetectable, particularly after a child has had a few days to get accustomed to them.

Sealants last as long as 10 years, at which time, they need to be reapplied. They can be checked at a regular dental visit. They do not replace fluoride for cavity protection, but fluoride and sealants work together, and have been shown to reduce tooth decay effectively. Fluoride is added to most municipal tap water supplies, and can be applied at the dentist’s office and at home as a fluoride rinse. It acts to harden teeth and make them less susceptible to the acids that dental plaque produce.

Some controversy has been attached to some types of dental sealants because a chemical, bisphenol-a, known as BPA was detected in a child’s mouth after dental sealant application in a 1996 study. This was the same chemical that was detected in some brands of water and baby bottles. It is thought possible that this chemical acts similarly to estrogen, and could be harmful to children. However, blood levels of BPA were never shown to rise, and the levels of BPA became undetectable in the children’s saliva shortly after. The FDA and ADA both support the use of dental sealants, stating that the risk is worth the benefits of the dental sealants.

A thorough dental health regime for a child includes twice daily brushing, fluoride rinse, a healthy balanced diet, and regular dental check ups and cleanings, combined with dental sealant application. Individuals local to Monroe and East Brunswick should visit Dr. Yanni of East Brunswick Dental Group for a consultation about dental sealants