The Truth About Dental Sealants

My dentist recently recommended dental sealants for my son’s teeth, and thankfully, knowing the benefits, we took his recommendation. But I know that many of my friends are in the same boat, and without a background in dentistry, they aren’t sold on the treatment. Many feel like it’s unnecessary and just another way for the dental industry to make a few extra bucks. Recently, I ran across an article in the New York Times that addressed this very issue, and I found the information very helpful for those who question the process. In an effort to always pass along great information from the dental industry, I thought I’d share a brief summary of the article (which you can read in full, here).

Dental sealants were introduced in the 1960s as a means of protecting teeth from cavities. They are plastic coatings that are applied to the surfaces of teeth, filling in and sealing pits and grooves. Molars are naturally more prone to cavities, so sealants are usually applied there. They are usually recommended in kids whose permanent molars are in, between the ages of 5 and 7, and again when their “12-year molars” come in. Dental sealants are also offered to older kids and adults who are susceptible to cavities.

In 2013, a study, which analyzed the results of 34 previous studies, was released showing that sealants are indeed effective in reducing cavities for at least four years after each application. One of the studies assessed involved a trial that followed kids with and without sealants for nine years. The children were aged 6-8 at the beginning of the trial, and by the time they were in their mid to late teens, 77% of the teeth without sealant treatment had cavities, compared to just 27% with sealants. The researchers who conducted the overall analysis concluded that in a population of cavity-free kids, there is a 40% chance of getting a first cavity over the next two years without sealants. That risk drops to just 6% when sealants are applied. That’s a pretty significant statistic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21% of children between 6 and 11 and 58% of adolescents have had cavities in permanent teeth. Fewer than one-third of those between 6 and 8 have sealants, and less than half of older kids do. Statistically, children from lower socio-economic demographics are less likely to receive dental treatments. Some states are attempting to address this issue by initiating sealant programs through schools. But there are still many states that lack sealant programs in some of the most at-risk communities. Cost is often cited as a reason for lack of access, but sealant programs are often cost-saving. The cost of filling a cavity is usually about $100, while sealant application only costs about $30-$40 per tooth.

Study after study have shown that dental sealants are an effective, affordable and safe preventative treatment. If your dentist recommends sealants for your child, or for you, consider the benefits to your oral and overall health.

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