Sealants vs. Fillings: What’s the Difference?

Outside of the routine cleanings, dentists provide a wide range of treatments and procedures to ensure their patients’ teeth are healthy. Two of the most common treatments in children are dental sealants and dental fillings. When it comes to your children’s teeth, should you choose a filling or a sealant? How do you know which one is going to work best for them? Let’s explore the similarities and differences of sealants and fillings.

Dental Sealants

Sealants are a preventive treatment applied to premolars and molars with deep crevices to protect against the development of decay. The deep grooves in the back teeth are generally where the decay commonly occurs. Since the bacteria in plaque live in these grooves, the sealants prevent the buildup of plaque acids on the enamel surface of teeth. The material is a tooth-colored, plastic film that is applied onto the surface of the tooth and flows into its natural grooves. The material is then cured with an ultraviolet light to harden. The final step for the dentist is to ensure the patient’s bite is aligned. Now, the tooth surface is smooth, easy to clean and protected from decay.

Dental Fillings

Fillings are a restorative treatment that repairs the damage of tooth decay. Dentists “fill the hole” that has been created by the decay. The decay is removed prior to the actual placement of material. Fillings are made from a composite (tooth-colored) material or amalgam (silver) material. Composite is the newer and preferred material due to cosmetic reasons. An anesthetic gel is applied to the area where an injection of local anesthetic is given. The injection then numbs the tooth so the patient does not feel any discomfort during treatment. The dentist then removes any previous dental restoration and the surrounding decay. The cavity is cleaned prior to the material being applied. Similar to the sealants process, the material is hardened using an ultraviolet light. After the material has hardened, the bite is adjusted and corrected using a hand piece.

How are Dental Sealants and Dental Fillings Similar?

Both sealants and fillings are optional, however in some cases are necessary. 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 both require the use of special tools such as the dental drill and the ultraviolet light.

How are Dental Sealants and Dental Fillings Different?

Although they are similarly performed, they are very different. The main differences come from the goals of the treatments, longevity, and the amount of modification to the actual tooth. The average life of a filling can be expected to last as long as ten years. The average life expectancy of a sealant is no longer than a year. Depending on the patient’s oral hygiene practices, it may not even survive that long. Sealants are typically provided to children to protect their back teeth from developing decay, whereas fillings can be provided throughout one’s lifetime to restore a tooth from decay that has already formed. During a filling, unlike a sealant, the natural tooth structure is modified due to the removal of the decay. A sealant only fills in the natural grooves of the tooth.

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

Whether you should choose a filling or sealant is dependent upon the age and specific needs of your child. Fortunately, you will be able to rely on your dentist to make this decision. Your dentist has all of the relevant information and can explain whether a filling or sealant is the best treatment for your kiddo.