Oral and Overall Health
Although preventable, tooth decay is a chronic disease affecting all age groups. In fact, it is one of the most common childhood diseases.1 Tooth decay, left untreated, can cause pain, tooth loss, and difficulty eating. Untreated decay and tooth loss can also have negative effects on an individual’s self-esteem.
Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing (occlusal) surfaces of the back teeth. Sealants are put on in dentists' offices, clinics, and sometimes in schools. Getting sealants put on is simple and painless. Sealants are painted on as a liquid and quickly harden to form a shield over the tooth.2
Dental studies show that permanent first and second molars are the most likely to benefit from sealant application.2 First molars usually come into the mouth when a child is about 6 years of age. Second molars appear at about age 12. The dentist will determine if sealants are recommended for the patient. If sealants are recommended, it is best if the sealant is applied soon after the molars have erupted, before the teeth are subject to decay.
Sealants help prevent tooth decay by creating a barrier between a tooth and decay-causing bacteria. Properly applied and maintained, sealants usually stop cavities from growing and can prevent the need for expensive fillings. According to the most recent U.S. Surgeon General’s report on oral health, sealants have been shown to reduce decay by more than 70 percent.3 The combination of sealants and fluoride has the potential to nearly eliminate tooth decay in school age children.3
In most cases, by the time an individual reaches adulthood, the occlusal surfaces of the teeth have been worn smooth, thereby reducing the chances for occlusal decay. Also, the majority of adults have had long-term exposure to fluoride through water, mouth rinses, and toothpaste, which also help protect the teeth from decay. Lastly, oral hygiene and diet tend to be better in adults than in children. For these reasons, MetLife does not recommend including sealants for adults as a dental benefit. However, it is important to remember that the dentist may, regardless of the patient’s age, recommend sealants, based on the patient’s oral health history and his or her risk for tooth decay.
1 CDC, Hygiene Related Disease; Dental Caries; https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/hygiene/disease/dental_caries.html. Accessed 4/27/2018.
2 National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “Seal Out Tooth Decay,” https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/sites/default/files/2017-11/seal-out-tooth-decay-parents.pdf Accessed 4/27/2018
3 NIH US Library of Medicine, “Oral Health in America: A Report of the Surgeon General." https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/ResourceMetadata/NNBBJT/. Accessed 4/27/2018.
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