Sealants can be a valuable preventive service for children soon after their adult molars erupt. They are a safe and proven way to seal the grooves of teeth in order to prevent future cavities.
Many molars develop with grooves and pits that are sometimes deep and very difficult to clean. You can see a mild example of these grooves in the picture above on the left. These areas are ideal for bacteria to hide in and avoid the bristles of your tooth brush. Think of these pits as caves for the bacteria to live in, eat the food that you eat, and build fortresses of plaque leaving the tooth helpless against the acid they produce which causes cavities.
On top of that, these molars erupt when kids are 6 years old and again at 12 when they are probably not brushing as well as they should, and they are snacking all day on cookies, crackers, and Mountain Dew. Even with the best habits though, these grooves can be nearly impossible to keep clean and free of bacteria.
Thankfully, we have an easy way to protect these teeth, which has been proven over many years to be an effective method to prevent cavities in these grooves. Sealants can be done with no anesthesia and all 4 molars, or even all 8, can be done in a single short appointment.
A sealant is a plastic resin material that we place into the grooves and pits after cleaning the tooth. It is bonded to the tooth, preventing bacteria from entering and creating a smooth surface that is easier to keep clean.
You can do nothing and hope for the best. With proper diet and hygiene techniques there is a chance that the teeth don’t get cavities. If and when they do we can try to catch it early and restore the tooth with a filling.
The cost of not getting sealants is usually just the cost of a small filling per tooth if they develop a cavity, however if you miss a few 6 month check-ups those cavities might get deeper and need more expensive treatment like a root canal or a crown. Also, a filling removes tooth structure, even small fillings, and that is another cost to consider. It’s always better to prevent the damage than to repair it. We see cavities in these areas all the time because without sealants they are just too hard to clean. If your dentist recommends sealants it is usually a better option than doing nothing.
Do all kids need sealants?
No. Some teeth develop with totally fused grooves and are basically sealed already. Some teeth develop with very deep grooves, and most teeth fall somewhere in between. In this figure, the 2 teeth on the right should have sealants. The lower left might be questionable, but the upper left tooth should be fine on its own.
After the teeth erupt into the mouth (around age 6 for 1st molars and age 12 for 2nd molars), your dentist will decide whether they need sealants or not. It’s a good idea to ask your dentist and discuss it during your child’s appointment.
Will my insurance pay for sealants?
Many insurances do pay for sealants and they are often covered at 100% as preventive coverage. However, every plan is different so we would have to check your individual benefit plan. Sometimes there is an age limit and insurances will only pay for sealants up to age 9 for 1st molars and age 14 for 2nd molars. You may want to check your personal plan before doing sealants, however regardless of insurance payment, sealants are still a helpful and cost-effective way to protect your child’s teeth.