Are Dental Sealants Safe for Kids?

child dental checkupNo matter how much you've coached your kids to brush and floss their teeth, their dentist might throw you for a loop by suggesting your kid get a dental sealant. This thin, plastic coating painted on the molars fills in tiny indentations and is supposed to act like armor for teeth, preventing cavities during the years kids are most prone to them (from around age 6 to 14). To moms who cringe at the thought of their kids racking up cavities and going under a dentist's drill, dental sealants sure sound tempting.

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Tooth decay, after all, remains one of the most common childhood chronic diseases. And according to numerous studies, dental sealants -- when properly placed -- are almost 100 percent effective in preventing cavities on molars.

What's not to love about that? Well, there is this: many dental sealants include Bisphenol-A, or BPA.

"Bisphenol-A is widely known to be an endocrine disruptor in its infamous use in plastic water bottles and as a liner in food cans," warns Merinne Mesku, a holistic dental hygienist and CEO of Pure Cure Dental Technology. "But BPA also appears in many dental sealants." 

You've probably heard about BPA, widely used in manufacturing plastics, since it fueled a frenzy of concern after studies showed it's toxic to animals and disrupts their hormonal balance. As a result, BPA has been purged from many products we use for eating and drinking, as is evidenced by the labels touting "BPA free!"

So, then, isn't it a bad idea to place this stuff permanently on your kid's teeth?

Well, some argue these BPA worries with sealants are overblown. After studying the issue, both the FDA and the American Dental Association have announced that the amount of BPA in sealants is so low it's not a health concern.

Plus, if the BPA thing bothers you, there's an easy solution: you can ask for a sealant that's BPA-free. The American Dental Association has a list of BPA-free brands on their site.

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Still, there is the concern that if a sealant is placed over molar surfaces that aren't spanking immaculate, it might trap decay underneath, which could fester with no way to clean it out. Most dentists agree that proper preparation of the tooth is crucial: the tooth must be cleaned, polished, disinfected, and dried before the seal is painted on. And wiggly kids make that a challenge.

"The most important consideration by far when placing sealants is the ability to keep the tooth dry during the placement process," says Joseph Howard, a dentist in Wellington, Ohio. "It's very difficult to keep the tooth dry if the child is particularly squirmy, or if the surface of the tooth is hovering just at the gum line rather than out halfway. So the question parents should ask is, 'Are you sure you can keep the tooth dry enough to ensure successful placement?'"

If you or your dentist isn't sure, it may pay to wait until the tooth is grown in more and your child is a bit older and can handle sitting still.

And, of course, rather than going to any old dentists, parents are best off picking a pediatric dentist, who's used to dealing with kids and their quirks. They're also far more likely to be experienced with applying sealant, since it's a procedure deemed best for kids right when their molars come in rather than for adults down the road.

If you do decide to give the green light to sealants, parents should also keep in mind that they don't last forever. Although they typically last up to 10 years, they can crack, so have your child's sealant checked every six months to ensure it's still protecting your child's pearly whites. 

What do you do to keep your kids' teeth protected?

 

Image © Paul Burns/Corbis

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