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Dental Sealants and Cavity Prevention

Feb 04, 2014

By Dean George

After consulting Punxsutawney Phil this past Sunday, we learned three things: first, Phil should keep his Ground Hog Day job after predicting a 3-point Broncos win in Sunday’s Super Bowl.

Punxsutawney Phil
Photo source:

Second, Phil predicted there’ll be six more weeks of winter. That squares with the Farmer’s Almanac and a weekend fortune cookie that advised me to wear flannel PJ’s until another cookie tells me otherwise.

Finally, Phil reminded us that February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. We join with Punxsutawney Phil in celebrating all the dentists and thousands of other professionals who are working to raise children’s awareness on the importance of oral health this month.

I plan to celebrate the latter later with a latte at Lucky Louie’s Libations. But enough about me! Let’s talk about how dental sealants are an excellent tool in cavity prevention, particularly for children, and how this procedure can benefit your wallet. For instance, did you know that applying dental sealants only takes a few minutes and costs about one-third of the cost of filling a molar? You heard it here first.

How are dental sealants applied? Applying dental sealants is a quick and painless 5-step or 6-step process, depending upon how the sealant is cured.

Cleaning The tooth surface must be thoroughly cleaned prior to application of the sealant. Dentists may use hydrogen peroxide, a toothbrush, a prophy cup or brush, or a prophy jet. (Prophy is a Greek word meaning to guard, or prevent beforehand.  For instance, prophylaxis is a $5 word for teeth cleaning, and teeth cleaning is generally used to prevent disease rather than as a treatment or cure for an existing disease.) 

Anyway, before application of a dental sealant the tooth surface is cleaned then rinsed for 20 to 30 seconds.  After rinsing the dentist will use an explorer (not like Lewis & Clark or Magellan but rather a dental tool) to find any remaining debris. If the dentist spots a potential problem, the decision to seal the tooth may be re-evaluated.

Isolate Your dentist or dental hygienist will the teeth with a rubber dam, or cover them with a cotton roll or dry pad. Aside from protecting the taste buds from the yucky taste akin to chomping on steel wool dipped in lemon-flavored paint thinner, isolating the teeth is vital because remineralization begins as soon as saliva touches the surface of the tooth being treated.  If saliva contaminates the tooth, the resin won’t stick but your treatment will be stuck – so to speak.

Rubber dams are the ideal method to isolate teeth, but since young children are often the ones undergoing the dental sealant procedure, often this isn’t used because of the fear factor. That is, unless a dentist wants a reputation for terrified wide-eyed and screaming young people.

Etching Have you heard the old line: “Would you like to visit my loft and see my etchings?” Well, when a dentist etches a tooth that’s not what they mean. Dentists use a liquid or gel-based orthophosphoric acid when they etch.  In addition to prepping a tooth for sealant, the acid also helps kill the bacteria in the pit and fissures of the tooth.  The etching is left on the tooth for 30 seconds.

Rinse and Dry After etching a tooth must be thoroughly rinsed for 30 seconds before being dried with air and suction. Again, if the treated tooth is contaminated with saliva or you accidentally squirt yourself with the rinsing wand, the etching has to be repeated.

Applying the Sealant There are two kinds of sealant material: chemically cured and light cured. The former requires mixing two compounds together immediately before placement. With this process the curing starts immediately and the tooth will be completely cured in 60 seconds. The light cured process requires no mixing and the curing process doesn’t begin until exposure to a light source liked that use in teeth whitening. Whichever process is used, the dentist takes great care that the sealant is evenly distributed into the pits and fissures of the tooth.

Curing the sealant This last step is only required if a dentist is light-curing the sealant. After the dentist has applied the sealant, it must remain undisturbed for 20 seconds before the curing light is applied. It only takes 30 seconds of concentrated light to harden the cure material.

Immediately after the sealant has cured the dentist will check for any flaws that may affect your bite.  Depending upon the number of teeth treated, you can be in and out of the dental chair in less time than a Super Bowl halftime – with or without a Bruno Mars landing.

What do dental sealants cost? How much you got? Just kidding. A typical sealant application costs about $45 per tooth, but costs can be as low as $18 to $20 per tooth with dental insurance or a discount dental plan available through the Dental Insurance Store. If you want to see for yourself, click here.

Thanks for reading, and for more dental adventures be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Sources:, Today’s Dental

Copyright 2014, Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC©

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