Dental sealants are protective coatings that can help prevent cavities in the back teeth. They’re often recommended for children, but adults can get them, too.
What are Dental Sealants?
The chewing surfaces of the back teeth are a prime location for cavities. These teeth have grooves, known as pits and fissures, that help you chew. However, food can easily get stuck in the grooves. Cavity-causing bacteria feed on the sugars in this food, and as they feed, they release acids. These acids eat away at the outer surface of the tooth, leading to tooth decay.
Dental sealants, also known as pit and fissure sealants, are painted onto the teeth’s chewing surfaces. This forms a physical barrier that protects your teeth from the bacteria that cause tooth decay. It also creates a smooth surface that’s easier to clean.
Who Should Get Dental Sealants?
People of all ages can benefit from dental sealants. Generally, it’s better to have sealants applied earlier before cavities have a chance to develop.
Dental Sealants for Kids
Dental sealants are typically used to protect children’s permanent (adult) teeth. The first molars come in when children are around six years old, while the second molars appear around age 12. The American Dental Association recommends getting sealants as soon as these teeth come in.
Sealants aren’t usually applied to baby teeth. However, dentists may recommend sealing baby teeth with a high risk of tooth decay due to deep pits and grooves.
Dental Sealants for Adults
Sealants are often recommended for children, but adults can benefit from them, too. Adults may be good candidates for dental sealants if they don’t have cavities or fillings in their molars. If you’re interested in sealants, talk to your dentist to learn if they’re right for you.
Benefits of Having Dental Sealants
Dental sealants protect the chewing surfaces of your back teeth. This doesn’t just help reduce cavities; it can even halt tooth decay and help you spend less at the dentist.
Applying sealants has been shown to significantly reduce children's risk of developing cavities. Sealants can prevent 80% of the cavities that form in the back teeth. This is the most common location for tooth decay.
School-aged children who don’t have sealants are much more likely to develop cavities than those with sealants. In their first molars alone, they get about three times more cavities.
Halt Tooth Decay
Dental sealants don’t just help prevent cavities; they can help stop them in their tracks. In its earliest stages, tooth decay may appear as a white spot on the tooth. Left untreated, a cavity will eventually form.
Dentists may recommend dental sealants for early-stage tooth decay that forms in the molars’ chewing surfaces. Sealants are effective in stopping this decay from getting worse. This treatment is both painless and noninvasive, unlike fillings.
Reduce Dental Costs
Sealants can also help you save money at the dentist. Since they can help prevent cavities, sealants may help you avoid potentially costly tooth decay treatments. Fillings are typically used to treat cavities, but more extensive decay may require a crown.
Sealing one tooth costs around $50 to $60, while a filling could cost around three times as much. A crown comes in at around $800 to $1,500, depending on its material.
Different Types of Dental Sealants
There are two main types of dental sealants: glass ionomer sealants or resin-based sealants. Both types have advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Glass Ionomer Sealants
Glass ionomer cement is made from a mixture of glass powder, polymeric acid, and water. The material releases fluoride, a mineral that helps strengthen tooth enamel. This may offer further cavity protection. Glass ionomer cement dries quickly and bonds with moist tooth surfaces. Since it's easy to place, it may be a good choice for younger children who are less cooperative with dental treatments. However, glass ionomer sealants are less durable than resin-based sealants.
Resin-based sealants are made from plastic materials. Some are white or tooth-colored to blend in with the molars. Others are clear, which allows your dentist to monitor the surface of the tooth. Resin-based sealants are stronger than those made from glass ionomer cement. These sealants may contain very low levels of bisphenol A (BPA), a widely used chemical that may pose a health risk in large doses. The amount of BPA in sealants is too low to cause harm, says the American Dental Association.
How to Choose the Best Dental Sealant for Your Teeth
Still, there are reasons why you and your dentist may choose one type of sealant over another. For example, resin-based sealants are more durable than glass ionomer sealants, so they may be a good choice for people who want long-term cavity protection.
In other cases, glass ionomer sealants may be more appropriate. For example, patients with a high risk of cavities may prefer glass ionomer sealants due to their fluoride-releasing properties. Glass ionomer sealants may also be a good choice for people who are concerned about low BPA levels in resin-based sealants.
For help choosing the best type of dental sealants, talk to your dentist. They can provide more information about the advantages of disadvantages of each type and recommend one that suits your needs.
Pricing: How Much Do Dental Sealants Cost?
The cost of dental sealants may vary based on your location, but generally, they cost about $50 to $60 per tooth.
Most private dental insurance plans cover 100% of the cost of preventive treatments such as dental sealants. However, some plans only cover sealants for certain age groups, such as children under 18. Other plans may offer coverage for adults. Contact your insurer to find out what dental sealant coverage you have.
Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) also cover dental sealants for all enrolled children.
Dental Sealants Procedure: How to Do Sealants
The sealant application procedure takes just a few minutes per tooth. Your dentist or dental hygienist will:
- Prepare the teeth by thoroughly cleaning and drying them.
- Roughen the chewing surfaces of the teeth with a mild acid solution.
- Rinse off the acid solution and dry the teeth.
- Paint dental sealant onto the prepared chewing surfaces.
- Use a special blue light to harden the sealants.
Is It Painful to Get a Dental Sealant?
The dental sealants procedure is quick and painless. Unlike some other dental procedures, your dentist doesn’t need to drill your teeth or remove any tooth structure. Injections of local anesthesia aren’t required.
How Long Do Sealants Last?
Generally, the lifespan of dental sealants is between two and seven years. This is because they may wear away over time due to biting and chewing forces. They may also chip or crack. However, when sealants are well cared for, they can last for up to 10 years.
Dental Sealant Aftercare
Dental sealant aftercare is very simple. Generally, there are no special steps to follow after the procedure. You or your child can resume eating or drinking right after the sealants are placed.
After getting sealants, you may notice a slight change in the way your teeth fit together. This sensation usually goes away within a few days. If your bite continues to feel different, talk to your dentist.
Sealants can help prevent tooth decay, but they’re not a substitute for a good oral hygiene routine. It’s still important to brush your teeth twice a day and floss once a day. Children younger than six should be supervised while brushing, while they may need some help flossing until they’re eight to 10 years old.
At you or your child’s regular dental checkups, your dentist will examine the sealants. If the sealants become chipped or worn down, they may need to be repaired or replaced.
How Do I Choose a Dentist for Dental Sealants?
Many general dentists offer dental sealants. If the sealants are for your child, you may prefer to see a pediatric dentist. These specialists have completed at least two years of additional training in dentistry for children. With this training, they know how to make children comfortable during dental appointments.
For help choosing a dentist, ask people you trust for advice. Your family, friends, or coworkers may recommend a local dentist that offers dental sealants. Your child’s pediatrician may refer you to a good pediatric dentist in your area.
Online reviews are another useful resource. Reading about other patients’ experiences can help you select a dentist that’s right for your needs.
Get the Best Dental Sealants Near You
It’s easy to find the best general dentist or pediatric dentist for your dental sealant procedure. With the Smile Generation, you can search for a trusted, local dentist in your area, read reviews from real patients and book your appointment online.