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Sealing out cavities.

Sealing out cavities If you're looking for good news, the American Dental Association has some: since the 1950s, the prevalence of cavities in children's teeth has significant declined. If you don't have young children, this may not exactly send you dancing into the streets. But think of it this way: the kids who didn't get cavities in the 1950s and 1960s have healthier teeth, and probably healthier gums, now that you're approaching middle age. We've moving into an era when "old" will no longer be synonymous with "toothless." The decline of tooth decay is due to widespread fluoridation of drinking water, the advent of fluoridated toothpaste, and improved dental care. Dental authorities believe that tooth decay could be virtually eliminated if parents--and dentists--gave children the advantage of one seriously under-utilized tool in the anti-caries toolbox: dental sealants.

Sealants are thin plastic coatings that a dentist can apply to teeth to create a barrier against food particles and bacteria. First the teeth must be cleaned and the enamel lightly etched; then liquid sealant is applied to the chewing surfaces with a brush. The material is then exposed to high-intensity light to harden it. The procedure is painless. It costs less to seal a tooth than to fill a single cavity.

Durable and invisible once applied, the sealant is most effective on the permanent molars and premolars--teeth with what dentists call "pits and fissures," which are least likely to be protected against decay by fluoride and are hard to keep clean. Other teeth may also be sealed, depending on their susceptibility to decay. The American Dental Association and the U.S. government recommend sealant for all children. Dentists sometimes also apply sealant to the teeth of very young children and young adults, but usually only if they're highly prone to tooth decay. The coating lasts up to seven years and is easily replaced if it wears down. Sealants have been well studied for efficacy and safety. If your children or grandchildren don't have them, this may be a good time to ask why not.

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Publication:The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter
Date:May 1, 1991
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