Sealants vs. Fillings: What’s the Difference?

Outside of routine cleanings, dentists provide a wide range of preventative and restorative treatments that can help keep your teeth in tip-top shape. It’s important to go in for regular dental checkups and cleanings in order to make sure you’re doing everything you can for your oral health.

According to the ADA, it’s estimated that about 91% of Americans over the age of 20 have had cavities at some point in their lives. So although it may seem scary to suddenly spot a small hole in your tooth, keep in mind that cavities are very common and are certainly not the end of the world. The important thing is to make an appointment with your dentist as soon as you notice something off. 

Today we’re going to talk about two of the most common procedures done in dentists’ offices – Sealants and Fillers. Both of these are minor dental procedures that are usually fairly quick and straightforward, with little to no recovery time.

Although a good dentist should be able to talk you through both procedures and recommend the best course of action, it’s still a good idea to be informed. This will help you make the best choice for your, and your child’s oral health. Hopefully, by the end of today, you’ll be able to discern whether filling or sealant is the best course of action for your child’s teeth. So without further ado, let’s start with some basics.

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Dental Sealants

Sealants are a preventive treatment applied to premolars and molars with deep crevices to reduce the risk of tooth decay. Bacteria like these deep grooves because they can hide in them and stay safe from toothbrushing. The longer the bacteria live in these grooves, the more plaque they create, which increases the risk of cavities.

Beyond taking care of your teeth every day, getting a sealant makes the bacteria easier to brush away. With fewer bacteria on your teeth, less plaque acid will build up on the enamel surface of your teeth. So, you can reduce your child’s risk of cavities with a dental sealant.

Can You See A Sealant?

The sealant material looks like a tooth-colored, plastic coating that, when applied to a tooth, protects it from decay. During the procedure, your dentist will first clean and prepare your tooth before painting on the sealant. The sealant then settles into your tooth’s natural grooves before your dentist uses ultraviolet light to harden and cure it.

During the final step, your dentist will ensure the sealant completely protects your tooth. After the procedure, your tooth surface will be left smooth, easy to clean, and protected from decay.

How Long Do Sealants Last On Your Teeth?

Sealants are most effective for up to two years after application. Although they may last longer than that, there is a good chance they will begin wearing down and need to be replaced.

Are Dental Sealants Worth It?

According to the CDC, children with sealants have almost 3 times fewer cavities than children without sealants.

Since the sealant coating protects teeth from cavities, this could mean fewer cavity fillings and dentist visits in the long term. As to whether or not it’s “worth it”, that depends on your child’s brushing habits, how prone to cavities they are, and how much your dental provider charges for sealant treatments.

Do Adults Need Dental Sealants?

Adults can also get sealants, although it is typically not necessary. Since adult teeth are much more worn down, and therefore have fewer crevasses on the surface, sealants are typically not necessary. Having said that, your dentist may recommend this course of treatment if it is a good option for your teeth. 

Dental Fillings

Fillings are a restorative treatment that repairs the damage of tooth decay. In fact, fillings are the most common treatment for symptoms of tooth decay, such as cavities. This procedure allows dentists to fill in the holes created by tooth decay.

When you go in to receive a dental filling, your hygienist will clean your teeth before the procedure begins. The area being filled will then be numbed before your dentist removes the decay with a dental drill. With the decay removed and the tooth prepped, your dentist will prepare the filling material.

What Are The Different Types Of Dental Fillings?

  • Composite Fillings – At Snodgrass-King Dentistry offices, we offer both composite and amalgam fillings. Composite fillings are made with tooth-colored material made from porcelain. So, if you want a more natural-looking smile, composite fillings might be the right option for you.
  • Amalgam Fillings – Amalgam fillings, on the other hand, are made with silver material. Amalgam fillings may not look the prettiest, but they do last longer than any other type of filling.
  • Ceramic Fillings – Although definitely one of the pricier options, ceramic is a great material that hits both durability and aesthetics, and will probably outlast a composite filling.

Be sure to talk to your dentist before your procedure to decide the right dental filling for you.

Is Dental Filling Painful?

Although they may sound scary, tooth filling procedures are rarely painful at all. Since tooth fillings don’t usually involve the gums or nerves, there is minimal discomfort associated with the procedure. Just in case, however, your dentists will usually numb the area before starting the procedure. 

Finishing The Procedure

You should know that on top of removing the decay from your tooth, your dentist might also have to remove any previous dental restoration. Next, the cavity is cleaned out and the material is prepared. Whether you choose an amalgam or a composite filling, your dentist will shape the material to your tooth and thoroughly fill the cavity.

Finally, like the sealant process, the material is cured and hardened using ultraviolet light. After the material has hardened, the bite is adjusted and corrected using a handpiece.

Pediatric dental filling, before and after photo

How are Dental Sealants and Dental Fillings Similar?

Both treatments fill the grooves of the tooth and provide a protective shield to the enamel. The processes of the treatments are similar, as they are less invasive than surgery, and at most require a dental drill and some ultraviolet light.

How are Dental Sealants and Dental Fillings Different?

Although the general purpose of the two procedures is similar (to fill crevices in your teeth), the main difference between the two is that one procedure is preventative, and the other is restorative. Sealant is used to cover the surface of a tooth to prevent future cavities. Fillers, on the other hand, are used to repair cavity holes already created in the surface of a tooth.

Other differentiating factors are the longevity of the treatments, amount of modification to the tooth, and cost. The average life expectancy of a filling can be as long as ten years, while a sealant can last as little as two years.

Another difference lies in how these procedures are performed. During a filling, the natural tooth structure is actually modified. Meaning, that the decayed part of the tooth is removed and then filled. In contrast, a dental sealant only fills in the natural grooves of the tooth without changing the structure.

Should I Choose Dental Sealants or Dental Fillings for My Child?

Whether you should choose filler or sealant is dependent upon the age and specific dental needs of your child. Since sealants are typically used as a preventative procedure, while fillers are a restorative one, both treatments can even be used in combination. Fortunately, a good pediatric dentist can usually help you make a decision. Feel free to ask your dental provider any questions you have, as well as their expert opinion regarding what’s best for your child’s teeth. 

Looking for a Dentist in Tennessee?

Here at Snodgrass-King Dental, we’ve been providing dental care for parents and their children for over 25 years. Throughout all these years, we’ve always valued our patient’s health and happiness above all else. In order to continue keeping your family safe, we’ve taken steps to incorporate COVID-19 safety measures into our practice. This includes following the CDC’s guidelines and keeping all equipment and patient areas as clean and sanitary as possible. 

We currently offer services across 5 different office locations throughout Middle Tennessee (Mt. Juliet, Murfreesboro, Franklin, and Cool Springs). Our areas of expertise include pediatric dentistry, family orthodontics, and adult dentistry.  This means that no matter who’s got a toothache in your family, we’ve got you covered! You could even schedule your own appointment at the same time as your child’s. 

We also offer plenty of great deals for our new patients – like $400 off Braces/Invisalign (Valid 08/01/2021 – 09/30/2021). Call or go online to book your appointment with us, we’re looking forward to meeting you.