What causes tooth decay?

Tooth decay is caused by the reaction of sugar in foods with plaque on the teeth.  Plaque is a sticky, often colorless film that forms in our mouths every day.  The bacteria in the plaque use food to make acids, and these acids attack tooth enamel.  This process leads to the formation of cavities.  Tooth decay often happens on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, and sealants can offer protection against this type of decay.

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What is a sealant?

A sealant is a composite resin material that is usually applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth – Premolars and Molars. This resin material bonds into the depressions and grooves (pits and fissures) of the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. The sealant acts as a barrier, protecting enamel from plaque and acids that cause tooth decay.

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Why are sealants necessary?

When the back teeth are developing, pits and fissures form in the chewing surfaces of the enamel. They are impossible to keep clean, because the bristles of a toothbrush cannot reach into them. Pits and fissures are snug places for plaque and bits of food to hide! In fact, most cavities form in pit and fissure areas, and back teeth are extremely susceptible to this form of decay. By forming a thin covering over the pits and fissures, sealants keep out plaque and food, thus decreasing the risk of decay.

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How are sealants applied?

It usually takes only a few minutes to seal each tooth. The teeth that will be sealed are thoroughly cleaned. Then the chewing surfaces are ‘conditioned’ to help the sealant adhere to the tooth. The sealant is then ‘painted’ onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth. A special curing light is used to help the sealant harden.


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How long do sealants last?

Sealants generally last for several years, and can be replaced or repaired when necessary.

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How do sealants fit in with other ways of preventing tooth decay?

Key ingredients in preventing tooth decay and maintaining a healthy mouth are twice-daily brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and cleaning between the teeth with dental floss. When shopping for toothbrushes, toothpaste and other oral care products, chose those that bear the ADA Seal of Acceptance – a sign that a dental product has met the ADA standards for safety and effectiveness. It’s also important to eat a balanced diet and limit snacks. Visit Dr. Parker regularly, and ask how to get the fluoride you need.

Prevention is better than treatment. Since they are extremely effective in preventing pit and fissure decay, properly applied and maintained sealants can result in savings in both dollars and discomfort.

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