Any dentist will tell you — regular brushing and flossing are the best ways to ensure your child has healthy teeth. But what if these two things aren’t enough? Despite having good habits, some kids still end up with tooth decay and cavities. You and your child haven’t done anything wrong, your kid’s teeth just might need some extra protection.
Dental sealants offer that protection, with another layer of defense against bacteria and plaque build-up. As a parent, you want what’s best for your child’s teeth. So how can you know for certain if dental sealants are the right option?
This guide helps you understand dental sealants: what they are, how they’re applied, and how to know if your child needs them.
What are dental sealants?
Dental sealants are small plastic coatings that get painted onto the surfaces of teeth. They’re for the teeth you chew with–the premolars and molars–as these teeth are the most likely to get food particles stuck in them.
Some children’s molars and premolars have grooves and pits that can be too tiny even for a toothbrush to reach. Even with proper brushing and flossing, food can still get left behind and plaque can build up, eventually causing cavities.
Dental sealants smooth over tiny grooves in the tooth’s surface, preventing food from getting stuck and reducing the likelihood of cavities.
How dental sealants are applied
Applying dental sealants is a quick and painless procedure that can be done in four steps:
- The dentist or dental assistant cleans and dries the tooth that will receive the sealant.
- The dentist or dental assistant puts a small amount of acidic gel on the tooth to make the surface slightly rougher and therefore easier for the sealant to adhere.
- The dentist or dental assistant leaves the gel for a few seconds then rinses it off and cleans and dries the tooth again.
- The dentist or dental assistant applies liquid sealant onto the tooth and hardens it quickly with a blue light.
Your child won’t have to get anesthesia, novacaine, or take any other medicine to prepare for this procedure. It takes less time than a teeth cleaning!
How long dental sealants last
For such a quick procedure, dental sealants can last a long time — up to 10 years. Since cavities are more prevalent in children and adolescents, ideally your child won’t need to have dental sealants reapplied. Of course, it depends on how old your kid is when the sealants are first put on. Your dentist should be able to tell you if and when the sealants need to be reapplied.
Are dental sealants safe for my child?
Dental sealants are completely safe for children. The material used in sealants does contain some bisphenol-A or BPA, which worries some parents. However, traces of BPA make up 0.0001% of the dental sealant material; it’s so negligible that it won’t harm your child.
Another concern with dental sealants could be allergies to the material used. These allergies are very uncommon, though.
Dental sealants pros and cons
Dental sealants have both advantages and downsides, although generally the pros outweigh the cons.
The benefits of dental sealants
- Quick, painless procedure that takes less than a few minutes per tooth
- Help prevent cavities
- No maintenance or short-term replacement required
- Safe and non-toxic
- Extra protection for teeth with thin enamel
The potential downsides of dental sealants
- Cannot be applied to teeth with silver fillings or decay
- Contains very small traces of BPA
- Not everyone is a candidate for dental sealants
Does my child need dental sealants?
To be clear, dental sealants are not a requirement for all children. Every kid has a slightly different set of teeth, and some might be easier to keep clean with simple brushing and flossing than others. Three signs that your child might benefit from dental sealants are:
- Deeper-than-normal grooves or pits in their chewing teeth
- Thin tooth enamel
- Multiple cavities in either baby or adult teeth
Some children have molars and premolars with grooves so small that not even a single toothbrush bristle can fit, and these kids are more susceptible to getting cavities. Ask your dentist at your child’s bi-yearly cleaning if they think dental sealants would benefit your kid. Typically, children who have good dental hygiene habits and eat teeth-healthy foods but still get cavities are good candidates for dental sealants.
The cost of dental sealants
Getting dental sealants is a relatively affordable procedure, costing between $30 to $60 per tooth. Some health insurance plans help cover the cost of sealants as well. And it’s a one-time fee that you’ll only have to pay once every 10 years, depending on whether you get replacements.
Choosing dental sealants for your child
Dental sealants are a common and safe option for many children whose teeth may be more susceptible to cavities and decay. By getting sealants on their teeth early, your kid will have extra protection for their baby teeth or adult teeth, leading to long-term positive outcomes for their dental health.