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How Do Dental Sealants Work?

You might have heard of dental sealants before. Your child’s pediatric dentist might have suggested them for precaution. But how do sealants work to achieve this? And what do they do, exactly?

As the name implies, a dental sealant “seals in” any nooks and crannies in the teeth that may be ripe for tooth decay. There are some areas in the teeth that a toothbrush can’t reach no matter how thoroughly you brush. Grooves in the molars are particularly susceptible to this problem. Because of this, these areas get cavities more often than other places in the teeth. It’s no wonder, then, that dentists often place these sealants around these areas. Children and teens typically receive this treatment, as it’s at that age they become more prone to cavities. 

But how do sealants work? Here’s what you need to know:

Dental sealants are plastic coatings that prevent decay from coming in

Just like how potholes are filled with cement, dental sealants fill and bind to the tooth, ensuring a smooth, less cavity-prone surface. In that sense, some may confuse dental sealants with dental fillings. But while the two may seem similar, they’re different as they can be.

Both dental fillings and dental sealants mainly diverge in their purpose: 

  • A dental filling fills in the cracks or cavities caused by tooth decay. It’s for this reason the materials used in fillings are a little more durable, such as metal. Because dentists apply them on teeth affected by tooth decay, the tooth’s natural structure has already been compromised. 
  • A dental sealant, on the other hand, prevents the cavity from happening in the first place. Plastic resin is the material of choice in its composition, as it not only flexible enough to fit the fissure but also expels any bacterial liquids that threaten to enter. They also let the tooth retain its natural form and integrity.

Now that we know the difference, how do sealants work?

Dental sealants keep food particles and sugars out of vulnerable areas

Bacteria isn’t the only thing sealants aim to keep out. When we eat, food particles can sometimes wedge their way into these hard-to-reach places. And once they get there, it becomes harder to take them out, seeing as these tooth grooves are quite small. It’s only with a dental appointment that you can scour through these little deposits. 

A dental sealant stops this from happening before it even happens. It’s for this reason dentists recommend your children get dental sealants once their molars emerge. But what if particles get trapped while your doctors apply the sealant? Don’t worry—your dentist will thoroughly clean the area before application. The procedure goes as follows:

  1. Your dentist first cleans the target teeth rigorously to prevent trapping decay underneath the seal. They then dry the teeth and place absorbent material around the teeth to keep it dry.
  2. Your dentist then roughens the teeth to help the bonding process. They rinse the teeth of the solution and dry it again.
  3. Afterward, your dentist finally paints the sealant onto the enamel, which allows it to bond to the teeth. It then begins to harden after a while, although some dentists may opt to use a light to aid in the hardening. 
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