Anyone who has teeth, or even one tooth, can experience tooth decay. That means about 5% of adults between the ages of 20 and 64 are immune to it. That’s because those adults have no teeth. Sad but true. In the 65 – 74 age group that figure climbs to 30%. By age 44, about 70% of American adults have lost at least one tooth. While more commonly offered to children, dental sealants for adults can be beneficial at all ages.
ADULTS AND PREVENTION
Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are the leading causes of tooth loss in adults. Both are encouraged by poor oral hygiene. About 25% of adults have untreated tooth decay. Individuals can minimize the risks of these common pathologies by following a regimen that includes brushing, flossing, fluoride, and diet. However, genes also play a role. Some adults are more predisposed to decay and will have some no matter how perfect their hygiene practices are. That said, there’s little doubt that a lot of the tooth decay in the adult population is due to less-than-perfect hygiene.
Life is not perfect. Reality bites, as they say. Adults who find themselves biting with decayed teeth may benefit by improving their hygiene. There are, however, limits imposed by logistics, personalities, and genes. An adult concerned by the continuing development of cavities should discuss dental sealants with a Royal Palm Beach dentist. Dental sealants protect teeth with a clear, thin barrier that coats all the dental surfaces and resists bacteria and plaque.
Dental sealants have been in use since the 1960s. There are two kinds of sealant in use. Resins are the more popular among dentists. Its advantage is that it doesn’t harden until the dentist shines a special curing lamp onto it. This allows the dentist all the time he or she wants to perfect the “painting” of all the target tooth surfaces. The other type of sealant is called “autopolymerizing”. It has two ingredients. Once these are mixed, curing begins by itself. This puts the dentist on a timer. He or she must finish coating the teeth before the sealant gets too hard to work with. The advantage of the self-curing sealants is the dentist needs less equipment to apply them. The two types of dental sealants are equally effective in preventing decay in adults.
SEALANT TREATMENT – WHICH TEETH?
The chewing surfaces of molars and the nearby premolars (grinding teeth) are prime candidates for sealant. These teeth are especially at risk for decay. The chewing surfaces are full of tiny grooves, or fissures, which make them very effective as grindstones. However, these grooves tend to get packed with food particles. Packed, indeed, since the average adult’s molar bite pressure is about 170 lbs.! Hence, these grooves are very hard to clean effectively by brushing. Perfect recipe for plaque and decay. Ideal candidates for dental sealants in adults.
Ideally, dentists apply sealants before a tooth has decay or fillings. As the years go by, however, fewer of an adult’s teeth are likely to be in this pristine condition. This is especially true of the chewing surfaces of the grinding teeth. Once a tooth has a filling, there’s little point in applying sealant there. However, sealants can stop decay in the very early stages from becoming a cavity.
CLEANING AND PREPPING
Dentists and patients alike say sealant treatments are easy, painless, and quick. There’s even a reason, discussed below, why it’s especially easy applying dental sealants for adults.
First, the dentist (or hygienist) gives the target tooth a good cleaning. Using a small rotary brush in the dentist’s drill, they pay special attention to the grooves and fissures. Sometimes, when this method doesn’t totally clean out the fissures, there’s are two other approaches. Air abrasion is one. This tool is like a micro-sandblaster. It directs a jet of tiny particles (silica or baking soda) under high pressure at the fissures and grooves. It’s a little messy. However, it’s very effective and doesn’t hurt. Another method is called enameloplasty. This involves the dental drill, but very gently. No drilling or grinding, just goosing any reluctant schmutz out of a fissure. It doesn’t hurt a bit. The dentist or hygienist then rinses and dries the tooth.
The next step is to “rough up” the tooth’s surface. This provides a better grip for the sealant. The dentist applies a mild phosphoric acid solution, called etching gel, to the target surface. It’s really a liquid, so it flows into even the tiniest fissures. In addition to texturing the enamel, etching gel kills bacteria. The dentist rinses the gel off after about a minute. The gel has a sour flavor, but it’s harmless to the soft tissues like gums and the tongue. After rinsing, the dentist dries the tooth with an air gun.
APPLICATION OF SEALANT
The dentist has now cleaned and conditioned the tooth. From here, it’s very important that the tooth stay completely dry until the job is done. Saliva, even in tiny amounts, interferes with the sealant bonding to the tooth. If that happens, the dentist may have to go back and repeat the etching step. Some dentists build saliva barricades out of cotton or gauze to keep saliva away. Dental dams are useful, too. It’s also important for patients to help out and cooperate in keeping the tooth dry.
Now, the dentist applies the sealant. Both types mentioned above are liquid at this point. Hence, the dentist uses a brush or a little syringe to “paint” the tooth. Being liquid, the sealant fills in every nook and cranny, every groove and fissure. It’s important to leave no spot unsealed. The bacteria that cause decay are very determined. Give them an opening, tiny as it may be, and they’ll use it.
GET SET, GO
The sealant now hardens in place. The dentist uses a curing lamp to set resin sealants. The 2-ingredient sealants quickly set by themselves. The protective layer the sealant now forms is very thin. Even so, the dentist checks out the patient’s bite to make sure the sealant isn’t causing any problems. If it’s a little too thick in spots, the dentist thins it with a quick, gentle stroke of the drill. That’s it, the tooth is good to go. 5-10 minutes per tooth, on average.
DENTAL SEALANTS FOR ADULTS: PROS AND CONS
Sealant treatment costs about $30 – $50 per tooth. That’s clearly a lot less than it would cost to get a cavity filled. They’re about 80% effective in preventing decay in molars, so the payoff is a winner from this standpoint. That 80% number means sealants are not a substitute for proper brushing and flossing, though. It does mean that an adult’s inevitable lapses in oral hygiene are a lot less likely to promote decay.
Dental sealants are not permanent, They do need replacing, usually after around 5-10 years. That does increase the lifetime cost of this solution. However, it still beats the expenses of filling cavities.
There’s a very small risk that existing decay, covered by sealant, can penetrate into the interior of a tooth. This is unlikely, though, because of the anti-bacterial action of the etching gel. In any case, regular checkups help the dentist stay on top of this. Another great reason to have regular checkups!
Some patients used to be concerned by the tiny amounts of BPA in dental sealants. The American Dental Association has studied this issue. They find no basis for health concerns. Even so, the manufacturers have either stopped using that chemical or reduced its concentration by 50%.
Dental sealants for adults are an option which can greatly benefit some individuals. Our Royal Palm Beach dental office practitioners are happy to discuss it and can answer any questions or concerns about dental sealants for adults.