Regular dental exams are an important part of preventive health care. During a dental exam for children, the dentist or hygienist will clean your child’s teeth and evaluate your child’s risk of tooth decay. A dental exam for children might include application of various protective measures — such as sealants or fluoride treatments — to reduce the risk of decay. A dental exam for children might also include dental X-rays or other diagnostic procedures.
During a dental exam for children, the dentist or hygienist will likely discuss your child’s diet and oral hygiene habits and demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques. Other topics for discussion during a dental exam for children might include preventing oral injuries or, for adolescents, the health risks associated with tobacco, substance abuse and oral piercings.
Although preventable, tooth decay is a chronic disease affecting all age groups. In fact, it is the most common chronic disease of childhood. Tooth decay, left untreated, can cause pain, tooth loss, and difficulty eating. Untreated decay and tooth loss can also have negative effects on an individual’s self-esteem.
What are dental sealants?
Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing (occlusal) surfaces of the back teeth. Sealants are put on in dentists’ offices. Getting sealants put on is simple and painless. Sealants are painted on as a liquid and quickly harden to form a shield over the tooth. This helps protect the chewing surfaces of the back teeth from decay.
Which teeth are suitable for sealants?
Dental studies show that permanent first and second molars are the most likely to benefit from sealant application. First molars usually come into the mouth when a child is about 6 years of age. Second molars appear at about age 12. The dentist will determine if sealants are recommended for the patient. If sealants are recommended, it is best if the sealant is applied soon after the molars have erupted, before the teeth are subject to decay.
Why should my child get sealants?
Sealants help prevent tooth decay by creating a barrier between a tooth and decay-causing bacteria. Properly applied and maintained, sealants usually stop cavities from growing and can prevent the need for more expensive fillings. According to the Surgeon General’s 2000 report on oral health, sealants have been shown to reduce decay by more than 70 percent. The combination of sealants and fluoride has the potential to nearly eliminate tooth decay in school age children.
Should adults get sealants too?
In most cases, by the time an individual reaches adulthood, the occlusal surfaces of the teeth have been worn smooth, thereby reducing the chances for occlusal decay. Also, the majority of adults have had long-term exposure to fluoride through water, mouth rinses, and toothpaste, which also help protect the teeth from decay. Lastly, oral hygiene and diet tend to be better in adults than in children. For these reasons, we do not recommend including sealants for adults. However, it is important to remember that the dentist may, regardless of the patient’s age, recommend sealants, based on the patient’s oral health history and his or her risk for tooth decay.
Where can I learn more?
Check out the ADA’s website for kids: Mouth Healthy Kids