Effective protection against cavities (or dental caries) starts with good dental hygiene and plaque control, but also includes a combination of fl uorine-based dental treatments, and what is called pit and fi ssure sealant. Pit and fissure sealant is a newly introduced practice for cavity prevention that is meant to supplement fl uorine-based treatments by literally covering up for its deficiencies. While fl uorine-based prevention methods are considered very effective on the smooth surfaces of the teeth, in other areas, this effectiveness is signifi cantly reduced. Therefore, the use of pit and fissure sealant in conjunction with fluorine-based treatment is the best way to improve cavity prevention rates, usually up to between 35%-70%
What is Pit and Fissure Sealant?
When teeth are formed, they develop tiny little cracks that are caused by biting and chewing. These cracks, or fissures, are usually not easily visible, especially if they are located in the deeper recesses of the mouth, and/or are covered by saliva. Only when the dentist uses tools to suck away the moisture and shine light onto the teeth are you able to notice them.
Fissures, as well as pits (a spot where two or more fi ssures meet) can become problematic because they often catch food particles, which become hard to remove with normal brushing.
Sealants help prevent this issue from occurring by sealing the pits and fi ssures in the molars and premolars that do the majority of the chewing. These are the teeth that are located in the back of the mouth, and are harder to reach with brushing, which usually makes them more susceptible to cavities.
Who Should Use Pit and Fissure Sealants?
In a survey of Americans teenagers between 18 and 19 years old, 89% reported to having cavities, with 94% of those cavities occurring at pits or fissures.
Furthermore, a majority of the patients surveyed had cavities in the molars or premolars towards the back of the mouth, where it was harder to reach with normal brushing. Pit and fi ssure sealants were developed for the exact purpose of preventing these kinds of cavities. However, if a cavity does form, a sealant can no longer be used, because if it is applied, the tooth will continue to decay underneath the sealant. For this reason, a sealant should not be used on or even near an existing cavity.
How to Treat Existing Cavities
Oftentimes, a patient who has gone to the dentist for a fissure sealant will find that a cavity has already begun forming. In this case, when the cavity is still in its early stages, a material called resin is used instead of a sealant. The resin has properties that not only helps stop the decay, but also helps it to bond with the tooth itself and prevent further cavities from forming.
The importance of periodic check-ups
Pit and fissure sealants do have a chance of breaking, depending on how hard you chew. However, because the sealants have a similar color as the surrounding teeth, it is not easy to tell if and when they are cracked.
Broken sealant is an ideal place for plaque or food particles to get caught, so it is important to periodically check on teeth that have been treated with sealant or resin in order to prevent development of cavities.
Usually, you should plan check-ups every 3-6 months, including an X-ray when possible to detect the onset of any new cavities. It is also good to have fl uorine treatments every 6 months.