Children And Dental Sealants: Advice For Parents

Dental health quality varies significantly across different patient groups in the United States, and studies show that many American children still do not receive quality oral health care. Problems with teeth and gums can start from an early age, and dentists now offer several preventive treatments to help parents protect their children's teeth, including dental sealants. Learn how dental sealants work, and find out why your child could benefit from this type of treatment.

Children and oral health

A report by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) found some disturbing trends about the quality of oral health care that American children are receiving.

  • Around 23 percent of children between the age of 2 and 11 have at least one primary tooth with untreated decay.
  • By the age of 15, around 60 percent of adolescents have had some form of tooth decay.
  • American children miss more than 50 million school hours each year because of dental problems.

One of the challenges that many parents face is that health insurance plans don't cover dental treatment. A quarter of American children don't have dental insurance, which further strengthens the case for preventive treatments like dental sealants.

Use of dental sealants

American dentists have used dental sealants on children's teeth since the 1970s. In the latest survey (carried out in 2004), 30 percent of children aged 6 to 11 had dental sealants, but rates vary between different income and racial groups. For example, only 21.26 percent of Black, non-Hispanic children have dental sealants.

Analysis by the CDC shows that this trend applies generally across all dental treatments. The situation often occurs because these social groups have lower incomes, poor dietary choices, and poorer access to health services. The CDC strongly recommends dental sealants because they can significantly cut the risk of tooth decay in children.

How dental sealants work

A dental sealant acts as a physical barrier between your children's teeth and the bacteria and waste material that can cause tooth decay. A dentist will normally fit a sealant to the teeth most at risk of decay - the premolars and molars.

Dental sealants are an effective way to support regular brushing and flossing. These processes can successfully get rid of food debris and plaque on the smooth surfaces of the teeth, but children find it particularly difficult to get these bits out of the gaps and grooves on and between their teeth. A sealant makes it harder for decay to settle in, cutting the risk of infection and disease.

What the dentist does

Some dentists refer to these sealants as pit and fissure sealants. The application process is very simple. The dentist will clean the teeth with special toothpaste, and then rub a cleansing solution on each tooth. Finally, the dentist simply paints the sealant on the teeth. All you then need to do is wait for the sealant to dry, which takes around a minute.

The sealant does not stand out, but you can see the material if you look closely at the teeth. That aside, the appearance is unlikely to draw attention from other children when your son or daughter smiles. The sealant can last from five to ten years, offering protection against decay throughout that period.

Dental sealants are a good way to protect kids' teeth, but not everyone can afford them. As such, the CDC strongly recommends school-based sealant programs, where children who would otherwise not receive dental treatment can benefit from these products. Check if your children's school offers one of these programs.

Sealants as part of preventive dental care

Parents cannot rely solely on sealants to protect their children's teeth. Fluoride exposure, brushing and flossing are still an important part of your child's oral health routine, even if he or she has a dental sealant. Dentists will normally apply a sealant when the first permanent molars erupt, but your children must still look after their teeth from this point.

Dental sealants can help parents make sure their children don't suffer with tooth decay. Talk to your dentist or visit to understand more about the options available to your family.