Sealing Out Childhood Tooth Decay

Dental sealants act as a physical barrier that protects the teeth from accumulating harmful bacteria that can damage the enamel and lead to cavities. The surface of the molars and premolars are highly textured with what are called pits and fissures. This makes them more vulnerable to decay because they are harder to keep clean.

The process is simple. First, the tooth is cleaned and dried. Then, a conditioning solution is placed on the tooth to help the sealant attach to the surface better. The tooth is rinsed and dried again before the liquid sealant is finally applied. In just a few seconds, the sealant hardens and bonds firmly to the tooth. They typically last three to five years and can reduce the risk of cavities by 80 percent or more on permanent molars.

Molars are the teeth most prone to decay and eventual loss. Humans have 12 molars, three on the top and bottom of each side of the jaw. They’re also our primary method of chewing and breaking down food. Many people don’t realize they’re also responsible for helping maintain facial structure. When someone loses their molars and doesn’t have them replaced, their entire facial shape will change over time. The cheeks eventually become sunken in and wrinkles form. This leads to rapid aging without the support of the back molars and because of the eventual bone loss that follows.

You may find yourself wondering when you should talk to your dentist about having sealants applied to your children’s teeth. Dr. Gregory Kerbel, DDS, a leading family and cosmetic dentist in Garland, Texas, says that sealants are important even on primary teeth.

“A child’s first set of teeth are the foundation for their permanent smile,” Kerbel said. “They maintain the space needed for each permanent tooth and if they fall out or have to be pulled prematurely, it can lead to complications with their adult teeth. By applying sealants to baby teeth, we can help prevent any issues that could affect their adult teeth and keep the primary teeth in optimal healthy condition. This also helps kids avoid the pain and anxiety that can come with childhood cavities.”

Early Childhood Caries refers to the decay of one or more primary tooth in young children. It’s actually the most common chronic childhood disease and affects millions of American children at varying levels of severity. One study found that nearly 51 million hours of school are missed each year because of childhood dental health concerns.

It’s hard to find a reason to oppose something that has shown such success in helping protect teeth and keep children healthy, but there is a small number who oppose the use of dental sealants because of a minimal exposure to BPA. However, the ADA says that even the air that we breathe every day exposes us to 100 times more BPA than sealants do.

The CDC states that sealants should not replace fluoride treatments in preventing tooth decay among children. They suggest that a complete preventative oral care program should include fluoride, brushing twice a day, dental sealants, a balanced diet and regular professional dental care.