What’s the Difference between Dental Sealants and Dental Fillings?

22 May

When it comes to protecting your oral health, there are two ways to go about it. You can take steps to prevent oral health problems and you can deal with those that arise, treating them to prevent further damage.

This process begins with a solid oral hygiene regimen at home. As most people know by the time they reach adulthood, this means brushing, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash at least twice a day, although ideally, it should be after every meal. It means avoiding sugary foods and beverages that could hasten bacterial growth and eat away at enamel, leading to gum disease and tooth decay. Chewing hard items like candy and ice that could cause cracks and chips is also a no-no.

Of course, preventive maintenance also includes scheduling regular dental visits for checkup, cleaning, and x-rays. This can help to catch potential problems early, providing the opportunity to deal with issues like inflammation that could lead to gum disease, along with tooth decay that could cause cavities or even infected pulp.

In short, maintaining good oral health requires a combination of preventive care and speedy reactive treatment, both of which can help to stave off serious issues and major expense. Along these lines, patients may have to consider both dental sealants and dental fillings. What are these treatments and how are they different? Do you need both?

Dental Sealants

Dental sealants are meant as a preventive measure, designed to combat factors that commonly lead to issues like tooth decay. For many people, the top surface of molars can feature deep grooves, or fissures. Food can become lodged in these grooves, as can bacteria. Often, fissures are difficult to clean, as the bristles of your toothbrush are too large to get into the tiniest cracks.

While all sides of the tooth are protected by enamel, food and bacteria can form a biofilm. When you’re unable to clean away biofilm, it turns into plaque and eats away at the enamel, creating a point of ingress for infection that leads to decay (i.e. cavities). In order to prevent this, your dentist may suggest using sealants on the chewing surface of molars.

Liquid sealants can be applied to the surface of the tooth to fill in fissures, then hardened and set using an ultraviolet light. This creates a slightly smoother surface that is harder for harmful bacteria to settle in and easier to brush, but that won’t impede your ability to chew.

If you’re wondering whether or not you need sealants, there’s an easy way to tell. Simply take a good look at your molars. Are they punctuated by deep fissures? Do you notice dark lines in these fissures even after thoroughly cleaning teeth? That’s a good sign that food and bacteria are already becoming lodged in the grooves.

Dental Fillings

Dentists often recommend that the application of sealants begins soon after permanent molars are fully erupted in adolescence, especially for patients with deep fissures. With early application, it’s possible that dental fillings could be avoided.

Dental fillings become necessary when tooth decay sets in. When bacteria build up, leading to plaque and tartar that erodes enamel, it can spread infection to the tooth. This infection is known as a cavity and if it goes untreated, it will continue to spread until it destroys your tooth. It can even spread to other teeth, the jaw, the gums, and so on, but this would be an extreme scenario.

When your dentist discovers a cavity, the solution is a dental filling. After removing the infected and damaged portion of the tooth, the remaining hole will need to be filled for your comfort and protection. You don’t want more bacteria to get in and start the process all over again.

There are different types of filling materials to consider. Among the most common is amalgam, a combination of metals that is silver in appearance. Gold and ceramic are also options. However, composite resin fillings have become much more popular in recent years because they are both relatively affordable and tooth-colored, which means they blend seamlessly with natural teeth.

Ideally, you can avoid the need for fillings with proper dental care. Taking steps like applying dental sealant to molars can help. However, when you need a filling, it’s best not to dally. The longer you wait, the more damage you’ll have to deal with.

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