Dear Dr Ellie,
My son’s dentist recommends that we do a dental sealant treatment. What is it, and will it really help protect my son’s teeth from cavities?
M C. F, NY
Thank you for writing in. We have a whole page about dental sealants on the Zellies website check that out for more information. But here is a brief overview.
A dental sealant is a plastic material painted on the molar teeth to cover grooves. At first glance this seems a great idea, since mouth liquids and bacteria would no longer be able to get into the groove and consequently a cavity could be prevented. My main concern is the use of plastic materials in the mouth because materials may leach out of them. The biggest problem appears to be that sealants do not reduce the population of harmful bacteria elsewhere in the mouth and in the saliva leaving the uncovered teeth still vulnerable.
A dental sealant does not take away or change mouth acidity. This means that although the molar grooves will be blocked up, the disease “process” and damage will continue in the rest of the mouth. Other tooth surfaces will be vulnerable to acidity and cavities may develop a few years later. Sealants only protect some of the teeth and then only of the sealant is on well and stays on.
Another concern is about sealing over germs, leaving them in the grooves of the tooth when the plastic coating is applied. There is a lot of research that shows nothing bad will happen to bacteria sealed in under a sealant providing they have a complete seal. If the bacteria do not have any source of nutrients it would appear that they lie “dormant” and not cause any more damage. The problem with this is that there are many different kinds of sealant and we do not know if they all behave in the same way – also if the sealant isn’t applied completely, the bacteria will have access to acidity in the mouth, and causing cavities. Sealants also often chip and break away, allowing liquids to get under the dental sealant and feed bacteria buried there.
As long as you as a parent, signing up for dental sealants for your son, realizes all the facts, risks and rewards, there could be a value in dental sealants. Unfortunately dental sealants have become almost a “routine” treatment and serious thought needs to be done before this is done.
Personally, I prefer to protect teeth by enhancing nature’s own protective mechanism with the regular consumption of 6-10 grams of 100% Xylitol than apply a plastic coating made from materials that may one day be found to leach hazardous materials into the mouth.
Check out the website for more information and thanks again for the question.
Ellie Phillips, DDS.