Sealants are a common dental treatment that can help protect your teeth from decay and cavities. They are a thin, protective coating that is applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, where decay is most likely to occur. But have you ever wondered how sealants actually work? In this article, we will explore the science behind how sealants protect your teeth, from the materials used to the process of application. By understanding the science behind sealants, you can make informed decisions about your dental health and take steps to prevent tooth decay.
The Composition of Dental Sealants
Dental sealants are typically made of a plastic material called resin. This resin is a type of dental composite that is specifically designed to bond to the tooth surface and provide a protective barrier. The resin used in sealants is usually a mixture of bisphenol A-glycidyl methacrylate (Bis-GMA) and triethylene glycol dimethacrylate (TEGDMA), along with other additives to improve its properties.
Resin-based sealants have several advantages over other materials. They are tooth-colored, making them virtually invisible when applied to the teeth. This is especially important for children and teenagers who may be self-conscious about their appearance. Resin sealants also have a smooth surface, which makes it easier to clean and maintain good oral hygiene.
The Process of Applying Sealants
The application of dental sealants is a relatively simple and painless process. It can be done by a dentist or dental hygienist in a dental office. Here is a step-by-step guide to how sealants are applied:
- The teeth are thoroughly cleaned and dried to ensure proper adhesion of the sealant.
- An etching gel is applied to the chewing surfaces of the teeth. This gel contains a mild acid that roughens the tooth surface, creating a better bond with the sealant.
- The etching gel is rinsed off, and the teeth are dried again.
- The sealant material is applied to the tooth surface using a small brush or applicator. It is carefully spread over the pits and grooves of the tooth, ensuring complete coverage.
- A special curing light is used to harden the sealant. This light activates a chemical reaction in the sealant material, causing it to harden and bond to the tooth surface.
- Once the sealant is fully hardened, the teeth are checked for proper fit and bite. Any excess material is trimmed and polished.
The entire process usually takes only a few minutes per tooth. It is painless and does not require any anesthesia. After the sealants are applied, they can last for several years with proper care and maintenance.
How Sealants Protect Your Teeth
Now that we understand the composition and application process of sealants, let’s delve into how they actually protect your teeth. Sealants work by creating a physical barrier on the tooth surface, preventing bacteria and food particles from getting trapped in the pits and grooves of the teeth. Here are the key ways in which sealants protect your teeth:
1. Preventing Plaque Formation
The pits and grooves on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth are prime spots for plaque accumulation. Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on the teeth and can lead to tooth decay. The rough surfaces of the teeth make it easier for plaque to adhere and thrive. By sealing off these pits and grooves with a smooth, protective layer, sealants prevent plaque formation and reduce the risk of tooth decay.
2. Blocking Bacterial Invasion
Bacteria are the main culprits behind tooth decay. They feed on the sugars and carbohydrates in our diet and produce acids that erode the tooth enamel. Sealants act as a physical barrier, blocking the bacteria from reaching the tooth surface and causing damage. This helps to maintain the integrity of the tooth enamel and prevent cavities.
3. Enhancing Oral Hygiene
Sealants make it easier to maintain good oral hygiene by providing a smooth, easy-to-clean surface. The pits and grooves of the back teeth can be difficult to clean effectively with a toothbrush alone, as the bristles may not reach into the deep crevices. With sealants in place, brushing becomes more efficient, and the risk of plaque buildup is significantly reduced.
4. Releasing Fluoride
Some sealants contain fluoride, a mineral that helps to strengthen the tooth enamel and make it more resistant to acid attacks. When the sealant is applied, fluoride ions are released slowly over time, providing additional protection against tooth decay. This is especially beneficial for individuals who are at a higher risk of cavities.
The Effectiveness of Sealants
Research has shown that dental sealants are highly effective in preventing tooth decay, especially in children and teenagers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sealants can reduce the risk of cavities in the treated teeth by up to 80%. They are most effective when applied to the permanent molars as soon as they erupt, usually between the ages of 6 and 12.
A study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association compared the incidence of tooth decay in children with and without sealants. The results showed that children who had sealants applied had significantly fewer cavities than those without sealants. The study also found that sealants remained effective for up to 9 years after application.
Another study published in the Journal of Dental Research evaluated the long-term effectiveness of sealants in preventing tooth decay. The researchers followed a group of children for 15 years and found that sealants reduced the risk of cavities by 86% in the first 4 years and by 58% in the following 11 years. These findings highlight the long-lasting benefits of sealants in maintaining oral health.
Caring for Sealants
While sealants provide excellent protection against tooth decay, they still require proper care and maintenance to ensure their longevity. Here are some tips for caring for your sealants:
- Practice good oral hygiene by brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily.
- Avoid biting down on hard objects, such as ice or hard candies, as this can cause the sealants to chip or crack.
- Visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and professional cleanings. Your dentist will examine the sealants and make any necessary repairs or replacements.
- Monitor your sealants for signs of wear or damage. If you notice any chips, cracks, or missing pieces, contact your dentist immediately.
By following these guidelines, you can ensure that your sealants remain intact and continue to provide optimal protection for your teeth.
Dental sealants are a valuable tool in the fight against tooth decay. They create a protective barrier on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, preventing bacteria and food particles from causing cavities. Sealants are composed of a plastic resin that bonds to the tooth surface and can last for several years with proper care. Research has shown that sealants are highly effective in reducing the risk of cavities, especially in children and teenagers. By understanding the science behind sealants and taking steps to maintain their integrity, you can enjoy the benefits of a healthy, cavity-free smile.