Our molars are big, round teeth designed for grinding and chewing. If you feel your teeth with your tongue, you will feel bumps on them. These are called cusps, they are like the mountain tops of your teeth—they are sharp and pointy.
In between the cusps or mountains, there are grooves. These grooves are very deep for some people, and they trap bacteria and sugars, causing cavities. Sometimes, the grooves are so deep and skinny that your toothbrush bristles can’t reach into them. For these teeth, dentists recommend sealants.
Sealants coat the teeth and fill in the grooves. Imagine painting a molar with white fingernail polish. Sealants coat the teeth for several years, preventing tooth bugs from hiding in the deep grooves and causing cavities.
Here are a few common questions parents ask:
- What age children need sealants?
- We recommend sealants on permanent molars. At 6 years of age, children’s first permanent molars start coming in. At age 12, the second set of permanent molars come in. So, starting at age 6 and again at 11 or 12 years, your dentist or dental hygienist will check to see if your child needs sealants.
- My child doesn’t eat candy or drink pop. Does she still need sealants?
- Even healthy foods like dried fruit can cause cavities in children with deep grooves. We still recommend sealants, as they last for years. Sometimes, children’s diet changes at school—they start sharing treats with friends, or drinking juice or pop.
- Do sealants hurt? Will my son have to get numb?
- Sealants are painless, no need for numbing! We will clean the surfaces of the teeth, then use a type of “tooth shampoo” to prepare the tooth for the sealant, then place the sealant. If your child is very sensitive to taste, we even have products that don’t have any flavors and that minimize rinsing with water. There are lots of options for sealants, and we highly recommend them.
- Are sealants the same thing as fluoride?
- Sealants are a coating for your teeth, they do not contain fluoride. Fluoride is a mineral found in toothpaste, some mouthrinse and some water supplies.
by Dr. LaVonne Hammelman