Dental sealants and dental fillings have two different purposes. Both have been designed to improve dental patients’ overall oral health, but they are not the same.

Dental Sealants

Dental sealants are used to prevent tooth decay. A dental sealant is a plastic-like coating that is placed on the surface of your molars where chewing takes place. Molars have deep grooves in their surfaces. These surfaces are called pits and fissures. Dental sealants are used on molars because they are more likely to decay because of the pits and fissures. The fissures in the molars can be hard to access when brushing and flossing, since they are deep in the tooth and very small. Sometimes fissures can be smaller than an average sized tooth brush bristle, which is why they are so hard to clean. Having dental sealants applied is a great way to avoid cavities and prevent fillings.

How are Dental Sealants Applied?

Having dental sealants applied by your dental professional usually takes only a few minutes, and is a quick and painless procedure. First, the tooth is thoroughly cleaned and dried completely. Then the sealant will be applied to the tooth. Once this happens, the liquid sealant will move into the fissures and pits of the tooth.

Next, the sealant will be set with an ultraviolet (UV) light. UV lights typically have a bluish or purplish color. This light helps the sealant dry quickly. Patients may feel a little heat from the light, but not too much for comfort. Once the sealant has dried, you are done!

It is important for patients to be aware that sealants aren’t permanent. Once you have sealants, you will still need to attend regular dental checkups. Sealants can chip overtime, which is normal. Routine dental checkups are important to be sure that cavities aren’t developing.

Dental Fillings

If a tooth is already decayed, then a filling is used to repair the tooth. Fillings also give the tooth strength after damage. Once a filling has been placed on the tooth, patients will not experience any pain that cavities may have been causing. All decay will be gone from the tooth, and patients will be able to use to tooth fully again. Fillings can also be used to repair teeth that have been cracked.

How are Fillings Applied?

Having a filling applied by a dental professional takes more time than a sealant. The dentist will also need to use an anesthetic to numb the area around the tooth in order to prevent patients from experiencing pain from the procedure.

After the area has been numbed, dentists use a small tool, usually a drill or laser, to remove the decayed part of the tooth. After the decay is removed, the entire tooth will be thoroughly cleaned. Once the tooth is free of any bacteria, the filling will be applied, and the dentist can polish it to finish the procedure.

There are a variety of filling materials available, and all are made to last as long as possible with proper care. The main differences between them are visibility and price. Some filling materials, like gold or silver amalgam, can be seen in the mouth. Others are tooth-colored and not as visible. These are called composite resin fillings. Generally the tooth-colored fillings are slightly more expensive than other options.

Dental sealants and fillings can greatly improve the appearance and function of teeth, but it’s important to remember that they do not last a lifetime. They can also chip over time. The best way to keep your teeth healthy and your smile bright is to maintain a healthy oral hygiene routine, and to visit your dentist regularly. If you would like more information, or would like to make an appointment, contact the office of Dr. Larry D. Molenda, D.D.S. in San Marcos, TX.