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Sealing the Deal: The Benefits of Dental Sealants

With debates about the efficacy of some tried and true dental treatments in the news this summer, many consumers are wondering what is really necessary when it comes to their teeth. Dental sealants are a widely recommended treatment for children as their new teeth erupt: but are they effective? With many insurance plans declining to cover sealants, it's important to know if they're even worth the out of pocket expense.

A sealant is a clear plastic coating that is painted over the tooth and acts as a barrier against plaque and cavities. According to the American Dental Association, when done properly sealants can reduce decay in teeth by up to 80%. While sealants are usually applied to newly erupted teeth (most commonly on the back molars) they can also be applied to adult's teeth if there is no decay present, or if that decay has already been correctly filled. However, according to Dr. Michele Simpson DDS of Wilmington, NC, it is rare for adults to receive sealants. Says Simpson "We generally don't seal adult's teeth as often because unfortunately, it is very difficult to determine whether or not an adult tooth is 100% free of decay." According to Simpson, sealing a tooth with even a tiny bit of decay can cause significant problems. "Using a sealant on a tooth that already has begun deteriorating can actually make decay the worse by trapping it under the sealant and causing infection." In most cases, it's not worth the risk.

So are sealants a good value? According to the 2011- 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, dental occlusions (cavities) are the number one chronic health problem in children under the age of 19, with more than half of all children over the age of 12 affected. Another recent study by the Delta Dental Foundation revealed that last year alone, American children missed roughly nine million days of school due to dental problems. Simpson's take? "If you can reduce that risk by 80% in the teeth that are hardest to reach when brushing, that's a very wise investment". Simpson recommends speaking with your family dentist to see if they recommend sealants for your family. Don't despair if you're underinsured, or your plan doesn't cover sealants. Some practices offer a discount for those with insurance even if their insurance doesn't cover sealants, and some may also offer payment plans or can direct you to special financing for dental procedures. Says Simpson "With sealants, you're not simply getting a tooth coating, you're getting an insurance policy for your children's teeth. You're getting peace of mind."

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