When a dentist notices that teeth might be at risk of tooth decay due to the presence of deep pits and grooves, which are difficult to clean, one way they keep potential cavities at bay is to use dental sealants. Dental sealant is composed of free-flowing dental resin which dentists use to seal any particularly large or deep grooves in teeth. Once set, these sealants stop food debris from accumulating in these deep pits and this stops bacteria from thriving within these spaces.
In general, dentists use dental sealants to protect the "6 year molars" of children aged from 5-7, and the "12 year molars" of children aged from 11-14. However, dentists also use dental sealants to protect the pre-molars and molars of adults whose teeth are prone to decay.
Despite their effectiveness, with children without dental sealants getting three times the number of cavities than those with sealants, cavities may still occur in sealed teeth.
Dental Sealants Don't Cover the Whole Tooth
While this inexpensive resin treatment effectively seals off the natural, but defective, fissures in premolars and molars, it doesn't cover the entirety of a tooth. For instance, the spaces between teeth are still exposed and under threat if not properly cleaned via flossing.
Likewise, the raised parts of teeth will not be covered. This means that even if a molar or premolar is dentally sealed, a cavity can still form on the uncovered points.
Certain Foods Can Compromise Sealants
Though dental sealants generally last approximately 10 years if vigilantly cared for, a diet heavy in sticky, chewy, or hard foods such as boiled sweets, will shorten their lifespan. Even if sticky foods dislodge a tiny piece of sealant, that small gap in the protection will be all that those millions of microorganisms in your mouth need to invade an exposed fissure.
Undetected, those bacterial organisms can feast on the food that becomes lodged in the exposed area, secreting enamel-eroding acid as they do. Unfortunately, if such tooth decay goes unnoticed for a while, the tooth decay may spread under the rest of the sealant without a person's knowledge. This is why as well as practicing good oral hygiene, you or your child should also visit your dentist to ensure that the dental sealants are still intact.
Dental sealants can protect young teeth from early decay, however, they can't do the job on their own. Practice good oral hygiene, eat fewer sticky, chewy foods, and keep an eye on the dental sealants. If you notice any darkness or staining under or on a sealant, visit your dentist as this could be a sign of decay.