Tooth decay (dental caries) affects children in the United States more than any other chronic infectious disease. Untreated tooth decay causes pain and infections that may lead to problems; such as eating, speaking, playing, and learning.
The good news is that tooth decay and other oral diseases that can affect children are preventable. The combination of dental sealants and fluoride has the potential to nearly eliminate tooth decay in school-age children.
What Parents and Caregivers Can Do
Here are some things you can do to ensure good oral health for your child:
Encourage your children to eat regular nutritious meals and avoid frequent between-meal snacking.
Protect your child’s teeth with fluoride.
Use a fluoride toothpaste. If your child is less than 7 years old, put only a pea-sized amount on their toothbrush.
If your drinking water is not fluoridated, talk to a dentist or physician about the best way to protect your child’s teeth.
Talk to your child’s dentist about dental sealants. They protect teeth from decay.
If you are pregnant, get prenatal care and eat a healthy diet. The diet should include folic acid to prevent birth defects of the brain and spinal cord and possibly cleft lip/palate.
What are dental sealants?
Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings that are applied to the grooves on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to protect them from tooth decay. Most tooth decay in children and teens occurs on these surfaces. Sealants protect the chewing surfaces from tooth decay by keeping germs and food particles out of these grooves.
Which teeth are suitable for sealants?
Permanent molars are the most likely to benefit from sealants. The first molars usually come into the mouth when a child is about 6 years old. Second molars appear at about age 12. It is best if the sealant is applied soon after the teeth have erupted, before they have a chance to decay.
How are sealants applied?
Applying sealants does not require drilling or removing tooth structure. The process is short and easy. After the tooth is cleaned, a special gel is placed on the chewing surface for a few seconds. The tooth is then washed off and dried. Then, the sealant is painted on the tooth. The dentist or dental hygienist also may shine a light on the tooth to help harden the sealant. It takes about a minute for the sealant to form a protective shield.