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What are Dental Sealants?

Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings applied to pits and fissures on the chewing surfaces of the teeth to prevent tooth decay by creating a physical barrier against dental plaque. Applying dental sealants to tooth surfaces with pits and fissures shortly after the teeth erupt helps prevent decay.

Most dental sealants (tooth sealants) are placed on the teeth of children. To properly place a sealant a dentist must be able to keep the tooth dry. So, at a minimum, this means that the chewing surface of the tooth being sealed must be erupted (fully positioned through the gums), and also that the patient is at an age where they can provide some degree of cooperation. The specific age at which this combination of events occurs will vary from child to child.

An adult's teeth can be sealed, although this procedure is typically utilized as a preventive measure for children so to help protect their teeth during those years when they are most likely to experience tooth decay. The need for dental sealants for either a child's or an adult's teeth should be considered on a case by case basis. After their examination, a dentist can tell you what they feel is indicated for your situation.

Which teeth are dental sealants usually placed on?

Any tooth that has anatomical characteristics (such as deep grooves) that might place it at risk for developing tooth decay should be sealed. By far the most common teeth for a dentist to seal are a person's "back" teeth, and of these teeth the molars are the most common teeth on which dental sealants are placed. It is probably more common for a dentist to seal "permanent" teeth rather than "baby" teeth, but every person has their own needs. Your dentist will make their recommendation for sealants on a case by case basis.

Should dental sealants always be placed on teeth?

Not all teeth require the protection that dental sealants can provide. After an examination your dentist can report to you what they feel is indicated for you or for your child.
It is the shape of their grooves (pits and fissures) that can place some teeth at greater risk for cavity formation than others. Those people whose grooves are deep and narrow will have a more urgent need for dental sealants than those people whose grooves are naturally shallow and rounded.

Beyond pit and fissure anatomy, your dentist will consider other variables that might indicate that a tooth is at risk for developing decay and thus a candidate for a sealant. They will evaluate the amount of dental plaque they find present, the amount of decay the patient has experienced in the past, and the patient's current exposure to an appropriate amount of fluoride.

How long do dental sealants last?

The longevity of dental sealants can vary. Any sealants that remain in place and intact for three to five years would be considered a success, however, sealants can last much longer. It is fairly common to see sealants that were placed during childhood still intact on the teeth of adults. Any sealants that do come off sooner than three to five years should not necessarily be considered failures. Any length of time a sealant remains in place is a time period during which a tooth is protected.

A dental sealant can only provide adequate protection when it is fully intact. If you notice that a portion, or even the entire sealant, has come off you should let your dentist know. Additionally, during your regular check up your dentist will evaluate the status of your sealants.

One reason why a sealant might dislodge is because when it was placed the dentist was not able to keep the tooth adequately dry. In the case of children this is very often related to the degree of cooperation that the child can, or chooses to, offer. As a child becomes older and more mature, it seems likely that the second attempt to seal the tooth will be more successful.

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You may be concerned about your child’s thumbsucking and wonder if it is harmful, at what age your child should stop, or what could happen if your child doesn’t stop.
Children suck on things because sucking is one of a baby’s natural reflexes and as infants get older it serves many purposes. It may make them feel secure and happy and helps them learn about their world to suck on their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects. Young children may also suck to soothe themselves. Since thumbsucking is relaxing, it may help induce sleep.

After the permanent teeth come in, sucking may cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and alignment of the teeth. It can also cause changes in the roof of the mouth. The intensity of the sucking is a factor that determines whether or not dental problems may result. If children rest their thumbs passively in their mouths, they are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs. Some aggressive thumbsuckers may cause problems with their baby (primary) teeth. If you notice changes in your child’s primary teeth, consult your dentist.

Children should have ceased sucking by the time the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Usually children stop between the ages of two and four years.

Pacifiers can affect the teeth essentially the same ways as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, it is often an easier habit to break.


• Praise children for not sucking, instead of scolding them when they are.

• Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.

• For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping.

• Your dentist can offer encouragement to a child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.

• If the above tips don’t work, remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Your dentist or pediatrician may prescribe a bitter medication to coat the thumb or the use of a mouth appliance.

Sucking on fingers or thumbs is healthy and normal when children are infants. Most children stop somewhere between two and four years of age. The effects of thumb sucking are usually reversible up until the age of seven, because children still have their deciduous (baby) teeth. If thumb sucking continues beyond the age of seven, when the second teeth are erupting, permanent dental problems can occur.

Problems caused by thumb and finger sucking

Excessive thumb sucking may lead to:

Buck teeth - for example, the front teeth may be pushed out of alignment. This can alter the shape of the face and lead to an open bite.
A lisp - pre-school children who suck their fingers and thumbs can push their teeth out of their normal position. This interferes with the correct formation of certain speech sounds.

Helping children to stop the habit

There are various things you can do to help your child stop thumb sucking. Focussing on the positives and rewarding your child are important. Depending on your child’s age and ability, you might like to try:

Reward your child and offer encouragement - for example, with a hug or praise, to reinforce their decision to stop the habit.

Limit nagging - if children feel they are being nagged they will become defensive.

Mark their progress on a calendar - for example, place a star or a tick for each period (such as a day or week) that the child does not suck their thumb or finger. Provide a special outing or a toy if the child gets through the period successfully.

Encourage bonding - for example, with a special toy.

Reminders - give the child a mitten to wear as a reminder not to suck, or place unpleasant tasting nail paint (available from chemists) on the fingers or thumb. Placing a bandaid over the thumb at bedtime is another reminder.

Offer distractions - while a child is watching TV, have toys available for children to play with. Sit with the child during this time and give a cuddle to help them not to suck. In the car, have toys available to keep children occupied.

How often to reward your child

Younger children need more frequent rewards. A five to six year old may need a reward after the first night. You can gradually stretch out the reward period from one night, to a week and then to 30 days without thumb sucking.

It may take several attempts

Children can easily drift back to their old habit and it may take several attempts before the habit is completely broken. Remember to be patient and that the first few days without sucking are usually the worst.

Where to get help

• Your dental professional (dentist or dental therapist)
• Your pharmacist
• Your Community Dental Health service
• Your Maternal and Child Health nurse.
Things to remember
• Children usually stop thumb and finger sucking between two and four years of age.
• Thumb and finger sucking after seven years of age may cause dental problems.
• It takes patience to help your child stop the habit.
• Rewarding your child for not thumb sucking may help.

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