At Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry, we’re firm believers in the power of preventative dental care for children, and protective dental sealants are among the most powerful preventative tools we have. These oral health superheroes are a proven way to prevent cavities in kids. To help fill you in on everything you need to know about protective dental sealants, we’ll be covering:
- What cavities are and how they form
- What dental sealants are and how they work
- Why dental sealants are important
- The process of applying protective dental sealants to children’s teeth
- What other steps you can take as part of a larger preventative plan to reduce the risk of tooth decay in kids
An Overview of Cavities in Kids
A cavity, also known as tooth decay or dental caries, is a permanent hole that forms in a tooth. How does a tooth get a hole in it? Well, the mouth is filled with bacteria and this bacteria mingles with the saliva and food we eat to create plaque. Plaque is a sticky film that accumulates on the teeth. If plaque is not removed by brushing and flossing, the bacteria in the plaque feed on the sugars and starches in foods and drinks and, as they do, they release acids that eat away at tooth enamel. As the enamel erodes and the tooth decays, a hole forms. When not treated by a dentist, the damage gets worse and the hole gets larger and deeper, which can lead to pain and infection. The chewing surfaces of the back teeth are especially susceptible to cavities because they are covered in pits and grooves, which are prime real estate for food particles, plaque and bacteria to set up shop. It can be hard to effectively brush and floss these intruders away.
What are Dental Sealants?
Protective dental sealants for kids consist of a thin, BPA-free coating that’s painted right onto the chewing surfaces of the molars and premolars, sealing the pits and grooves. Sealants act kind of like a force field, repelling food, plaque and bacteria and not allowing the acids to penetrate the enamel, which prevents cavities. As for when kids should get dental sealants, we usually recommend having them applied as soon as a child’s first permanent molars erupt around the age of six or seven and again when the second permanent molars come in between 12 and 13. With proper care, dental sealants can last up to 10 years. Occasionally, they can fall out but we always check them when patients visit us for a dental cleaning and exam, and we can quickly and easily reapply, if necessary. Parents sometimes ask us if dental sealants for adults are a possibility out of curiosity. Sealants are much more common for kids and preteens. However, some dentists do offer dental sealants for adults as long as the teeth they’re sealing don’t have any fillings or decay.
Why are Dental Sealants for Kids Important?
Unfortunately, cavities are considered the most common chronic disease of childhood with tooth decay being four times more common than asthma among 14 to 17 years olds. However, the good news is, cavities in children are largely preventable and dental sealants are an extremely effective way to ward off decay. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that dental sealants prevent up to 80% of cavities for two years after they’re applied and continue preventing up to 50% cavities after that. Studies suggest only about 60 percent of kids ages six to 11 have dental sealants and those that don’t have them get nearly three times as many cavities. While, yes, when a child has a cavity, we can remove the decay and restore the tooth with a filling, it’s always better to avoid needing restorative treatment at all. A natural tooth without a cavity is stronger than a tooth with a filling or decay. Also, the dental sealants cost is less than the cost of restorative treatment and the process is quicker, easier and less invasive.
How are Dental Sealants Applied?
The dental sealants procedure is painless and quick. When you visit our Brooklyn pediatric dental office for dental sealants, we’ll chat with your child about exactly what will happen and what they can expect, as well as show them the tools we’ll be using to alleviate any anxiety they may be feeling. The steps for applying dental sealants are as follows:
- We’ll clean your child’s teeth to make sure the surfaces are free of food, plaque and bacteria.
- Once the teeth are clean, we’ll paint a solution onto the teeth that will help the sealants stick.
- Next, we clean and dry the teeth before brushing on the BPA-free sealants.
- When the sealants are dry, your child can hop on out of our chair and grab a prize.
That’s it! The process of applying dental sealants only takes a few minutes. It’s such a simple, painless preventative treatment and the trade-off of having a cavity-free smile is huge.
Even More Ways to Prevent Cavities in Children
While dental sealants are super effective as part of an overall prevention plan, on their own, they can’t keep all cavities at bay. Here’s how your child can make the most of their dental sealants and what additional steps you can take to keep their smile in top-notch shape:
- To help protective dental sealants for kids last as long as possible, children should avoid chewing on ice, hard candy or anything that can damage the seal.
- Have kids brush their teeth at least twice a day, in the morning and before bed, using a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste. Be sure they brush for two minutes each time. Encourage them to brush using circular motions along the gum line and on every surface of the teeth, giving each tooth individual attention.
- Kids should floss their teeth once daily. When teaching kids to floss their teeth, have them position the dental floss between any two teeth and floss up and down the side of one tooth, all the way up to and slightly under the gum line, and then up and down the side of the other tooth. Move on to the next set of teeth and repeat this process until all of the teeth have been flossed.
- If your child is at risk for cavities or you just want them to have a little extra protection, older kids can benefit from using mouthwash twice a day for 60 seconds.
- Exams and dental cleanings for children are so important too! Schedule these routine dental visits every six months. As a Brooklyn dentist for kids, at your child’s check-up, we can help you develop the most comprehensive preventative care plan. If we do spot cavities, we can detect them early on while they’re still easy to treat. During professional dental cleanings, we’re able to remove hardened plaque, or tartar, that can’t be eliminated with just a regular toothbrush at home, further lowering the risk of cavities and gum disease in kids.
- Make sure kids are eating a well-rounded diet that includes lean protein, low-fat dairy (or other sources of calcium), complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables. Getting all of the necessary vitamins and nutrients will help strengthen kids’ teeth.
- Hold off on brushing kids’ teeth for about 30 minutes to an hour after they enjoy something acidic like a glass of orange juice. The acidity can weaken the enamel and then when you brush right away, it may cause damage. Give the saliva a chance to neutralize the acid before brushing the teeth.
- Limit sugary foods and beverages. The bacteria in the mouth love sugars and starches and they’ll release cavity-causing acids as they feed. Things like sports drinks, juice with added sugar or sour candies have the one-two punch of acidity and sugar, making them even more harmful to teeth. We’d never ask kids to avoid everything sweet or acidic, but enjoy treats in moderation.
- Minimize snacking in between meals and eat or drink sugary foods and drinks in one sitting. The acids from plaque hang out in the mouth for about a half hour after a child eats or drinks before the remineralization process occurs. Every time your kiddo takes a bite of food or a sip of a drink, the clock starts over. This is why snacking frequently all day long or slowly and leisurely enjoying a soda can increase the odds of kids getting cavities. It’s better to have one or two healthy snacks a day and to drink that soda in one sitting as part of a larger meal.
- Embrace spit! Saliva doesn’t just wash away food particles and plaque, it also contains minerals that neutralize acids and strengthen enamel. To keep the saliva flowing, have kids drink plenty of water throughout the day. If they’re old enough, chewing sugarless gum can also boost saliva flow to help prevent cavities in kids.
Now that you know what dental sealants are, you can see how they’re an effective, simple way to ward off cavities, especially as part of a comprehensive preventative care plan. If you’d like to learn more or you’re on the lookout for a fun, knowledgeable Park Slope or Williamsburg pediatric dentist, schedule a visit at Bitesize Pediatric Dentistry today. Request an appointment online or call us at (917) 397-1341 (Park Slope) or (718) 899-4500.