A long-lasting, cavity-fighting protectant that can cost as little as $30 per tooth? That might sound like a fantasy, but in the right candidate, a sealant can be exactly that. We dive deep on what sealants are and who they can benefit.
The Basics on Sealants
Cranberry Township, PA cosmetic dentist Robert M. Klaich, DDS explains that the concept behind sealants is very simple. “A sealant is a small amount of adhesive resin placed on the deeper grooves of a tooth,” Dr. Klaich says. “They are commonly used on children to aid in cavity prevention by ‘sealing’ grooves on vulnerable erupting teeth. Children often struggle to cleanse these areas of the dentition, so sealants aid in protecting these tooth surfaces.”
That adhesive resin is usually a tooth-colored composite that gets painted on the surface of a tooth.
Los Altos, CA cosmetic dentist Joseph Field, DDS explains that the composite is bonded in areas where plaque might stick around. “The goal is to cover up anywhere there are deep grooves, fissures or pits on the teeth where plaque and food might accumulate,” Dr. Field explains.
They’re great for kids because they have a period of especially cavity-prone years, explains New York cosmetic dentist Husam Almunajed, DMD. “Once the teeth break through the gums, they are susceptible to cavities,” Dr. Alumanjed says. “And as the adult molars come in at 6 years of age, sealants will protect their new teeth as a great preventative treatment.”
These days, almost half of U.S. kids have dental sealants. Additionally, we have proof that they’re effective. According to the CDC, dental sealants prevent 80% of cavities over 2 years in the back teeth, where 9 in 10 cavities occur.
What Makes Sealants Different from Fillings?
As Dr. Almunajed explains, sealants are a preventative treatment that sit on the surface of the tooth. In other words, there’s no drilling required. Fillings, on the other hand, are required after decay has already happened.
“A filling requires drilling into the tooth which happens when there is a cavity that is on the tooth’s surface that needs to be drilled out and then filled with a dental composite,” Dr. Field says. “The difference in materials is that both are a composite resin, but sealants are designed to be runnier so that it flows into the crevices better. But, as a trade-off, it’s not as hard or dense as a filling material.”
Can Adults Benefit From Sealants?
According to Dr. Klaich, most dentists don’t bother with sealants for adults. “Sealants are not commonly used in adults, but certain applications might find it beneficial.”
Dr. Field says it’s a missed opportunity in general practice dentistry. “We use them very often for kids, but they also have applications for adults,” Dr. Field explains. “And that’s something that’s often missed in general practices, I think. Dental sealants are effective to prevent staining and decay on the biting surfaces of teeth.”
Since they work by sealing the grooves in teeth, they work best in adults that happen to have a lot of those deep fissures.
“Dental sealants are great really for all ages, as they are designed to seal the grooves and chewing surfaces of teeth,” Dr. Almunajed explains. “Some people have deep anatomical pits and grooves in their teeth that are difficult to thoroughly clean, and with dental sealants, you prevent acids from forming that causes tooth decay.” Dr. Field agrees. “If you have those deep fissures, sealants are kind of a no-brainer,” he says.
Sealants For Cavity-Prevention
You may also find sealants useful if you struggle with cavities. According to the CDC, adults aged 20 to 34 have more untreated cavities in their back teeth than any other age group. That makes young adults a potentially perfect group to receive sealants, a low cost preventative that would save on more expensive dental work down the road.
It isn’t exactly clear why this group has such high rates of untreated cavities.
“Different patients have different rates and quantities of decay for a variety of reasons,” Dr. Klaich says. “Sugar and acid intake are two of the big culprits for decay formation, but frequency and quality of hygiene are just as important. Some patients have areas of the dentition that are weaker and more vulnerable than others. Factors that contribute to weakness may include anatomical makeup, fluoride intake, genealogy, and gum recession to name a few.”
Those areas of weakness can be covered with a sealant to prevent further decay. Sealants can work to protect your teeth against cavities for years if they are cared for correctly.
How to Care For Sealants
As with general dental health, ensuring the longevity of your sealant has a lot to do with practicing good oral hygiene.
“I tell my patients you can enjoy your food and drinks, but after, drinking water is important to rinse the teeth off any residues,” Dr. Almunajed explains. “It’s important to use mouthwash, floss, and toothpaste to get your teeth and gums clean before bedtime as most of the damage occurs when you are asleep, when your saliva levels are low.”
But dental sealants aren’t meant to last forever.
“They can and will wear down over time, because they’re softer than tooth structure,” Dr. Field explains. “But that’s okay because we don’t want them to wear down your teeth. So typically, every four to six months we check to see how they’re doing. You can expect them to last, on average, about two years before they would need to be replaced.”
With an average cost of between $30 and $60 per tooth, two years of increased protection could be exactly what your teeth are looking for.