What are dental sealants? Our pediatric dental experts weigh in
February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and an apt time to consider healthy hygiene for the smallest smiles. To mark the month, the American Dental Association this year is recognizing the importance of dental sealants, a thin protective coating painted on to the chewing surfaces of the teeth that help protect against cavities.
Lurie Children’s Division of Pediatric Dentistry, which treats more than 5,000 pediatric and completes about 1,000 dental surgery procedures each year, routinely places sealants on children’s permanent, or “adult,” molars and, in some cases, even on baby molar teeth in an effort to prevent cavities, according to Lurie Children’s pediatric dentist Dr. Ashlee Cosantino, who also serves as director of the postdoctoral program in pediatric dentistry.
Below, Dr. Cosantino answers some common questions about dental sealants.
For more information about dentistry at Lurie Children’s, including how to make an appointment, click here.
What do dental sealants do?
Dr. Cosantino: Dental sealants aim to protect against cavities on the back molars where food/plaque collects and where brushing can be hard to reach.
How do sealants work?
Dr. Cosantino: Sealants function as an invisible barrier against food particles, plaque and bacteria that can remain on teeth and produce acid that causes tooth decay. The sealant material prevents the acid from penetrating the tooth.
How are they applied? Is it painful/invasive for a child?
Dr. Cosantino: The process is fairly simple and takes about 30 minutes. It is a painless procedure and does not require any numbing. First, the teeth are thoroughly cleaned and prepped with etching and conditioning solutions that allow the sealant material to bond to the teeth. The teeth must be kept very dry and isolated from the tongue/saliva during this process, so we use special rubber dam barriers or cotton isolation. After the preparation, the sealant material is placed and a special curing light aids in bonding and hardening of the sealant material.
Who do you recommend receive sealants?
Dr. Cosantino: According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, “sealants can decrease the risk of tooth decay by nearly 80 percent in molars, where 90 percent of cavities happen. 6- to 11-year-olds who lack sealants have nearly three times more first molar cavities than kids with sealants.”
Sealants are most effective when applied shortly after the teeth erupt. For the first permanent molars, this happens around 6-7 years old. For the second permanent molars, this occurs around age 12. Sealants can be very beneficial to all dental patients to prevent dental decay before it starts. We at Lurie Children’s focus on cavity prevention in the adult molars, typically in patients over the age of 6, regardless of cavity risk. However, we may recommend sealants on baby molars if the child is high-risk for cavities.
Are dental sealants safe?
Dr. Cosantino: Sealants have been researched and used safely since the 1970s. The sealants we use at Lurie Children's are BPA-free and are painless to apply.
Do they need to be replaced?
Dr. Cosantino: Sealants typically last up to 10 years. The better your child’s oral health habits, the longer the sealants will last. Sealants protect against 80% of cavities in the first two years of placement and they protect against 50% of cavities after four years.
Can my child get sealants at Lurie Children’s?
Dr. Cosantino: Absolutely! We assess every patient for sealants at their check-up appointments and can discuss any questions/schedule an appointment for the sealants if your child needs them.
Will my dental plan cover sealants? Does Medicaid?
Dr. Cosantino: Most dental plans, including Medicaid, cover sealants at 100% as a preventative service. There are age limitations on some insurance plans, so it’s best to check with your insurance carrier on exact benefits.