In the 70's, fluoride cut tooth decay in children by a third. Today, children still get an average of ten cavities by the time they reach sixteen!
Why haven't we gotten rid of cavities and what can be done to make the situation better? Sweets are a part of the problem. There are still lots of tempting goodies around brilliantly marketed, targeting our children. The other part of the problem is our drinking water; half of which in the United States is non-fluoridated. We as dentists, however, feel one of the major reason is that parents virtually ignore the use of sealants in preventative dentistry.
Sealants involve a painless technique which coats the teeth with a thin plastic film. Your dentist or dental hygienist will etch the tooth enamel with a mild acid solution and then apply the sealant. Light will be used to harden the material. Not all the teeth need to be coated. Sealing just the permanent back teeth, which do most of the biting, often will suffice.
Although the process has been promoted by the National Institute of Dental Research since the 60's, it still appears to be seriously under-utilized. Since it was first introduced, there have been ongoing improvements in the procedure, as well as "unequivocal evidence" presented by panelists at the National Institutes of Health which indicates that the technology can reduce tooth decay in children by at least one-half. Unlike fluorides, which mainly protect the smooth surfaces of the teeth, sealants are particularly effective on the rougher biting surfaces and areas in which even after fluoride treatment, cavities form.
Once the decay process has already started, it is too late to apply a sealant as a protective measure. However, if the decay is detected early, it may be possible to place a small restoration in the tooth to stop the decay and restore the tooth to full function. It is important also to remember that sealants do not replace proper oral health habits including thorough brushing and flossing. The recommendation by the NIH panelists is to use sealants in conjunction with fluoride treatments. They suggest two applications; one to permanent molars at age 6 or 7 and again to the second molars at about age 13. Interestingly, even adults who appear to be prone to cavities may benefit. The process can help to protect teeth for several years at which time the process should be repeated. The investment is fairly small considering the tremendous benefits which stand to be gained. Ask your dentist or hygienist for further information about this very valuable technique available in our office.
For more information about sealants call our office at (818) 465-7777