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Health Department column: Know your teeth

By Elizabeth Davis, quality improvement specialist,
and Mecedez Stroud, Rowan County Health Department intern

Christie Brinkley and Denzel Washington were voted Stars with Best Smiles by Us Weekly in November, 2015. The obvious secret to having the best smile is having good teeth. Not only do Christie and Denzel get to blind cameras with their pearly whites, they also are able to chew their food without pain. Teeth are important. Health and quality of life are improved by having good teeth. The best way to improve your teeth is to prevent damage before it can happen. One easy way to prevent damage to teeth and keep them feeling good is by having a dentist apply sealants to the teeth in the back of the mouth. This is especially true for kids who can prevent damage early in life.

What are sealants?

Sealants are a plastic material usually applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (premolars and molars) where decay occurs most often. The chewing surface of the back teeth may have deep groves which make them vulnerable to decay. These groves can be deep and difficult to clean. Dental sealants act as a barrier to help prevent cavities. These vulnerable areas are protected by the sealant to “seal out” plaque and food which holds up well under the force of normal chewing, usually lasting several years before a reapplication is needed. Sealants do not however replace fluoride for cavity protection, such as those used in toothpaste and mouth rinse, but they do work together to help prevent tooth decay.

How are sealants applied?

Only taking a few minutes, sealants are easy to apply. After cleaning the tooth that will be sealed, if required, a dental tool will be used to open the grooves of the teeth and determine if decay is present. A solution will be applied to the surface of the tooth to roughen it which helps the sealant stick to the teeth. The dentist then paints the sealant on and it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. Sealants can be seen up close with a clear, white or tinted appearance but are usually not seen when one smiles or talks. Painless and taking anywhere from five to 45 minutes to apply, sealants can be helpful in assisting with the overall health of your teeth.

Who receives sealant treatment?

Children and teenagers are obvious candidates for receiving sealant treatment since the likelihood of developing pit and fissure decay begins early in life. Adults can also benefit from sealant treatment and should also take full advantage of it.

Are sealants covered by insurance?

Insurance benefits for sealant procedures have increased considerably, especially as companies start to realize that sealants are a proven preventive technique. This preventive measure can help reduce future dental expenses and protect the teeth from more aggressive forms of treatment. Sealants are covered by most dental insurance, including Medicaid.

Key ingredients in preventing tooth decay and maintaining a healthy mouth are:

  • brushing twice a day with an American Dental Association (ADA)-accepted fluoride toothpaste
  • cleaning between the teeth daily with floss or another interdental cleaner
  • eating a healthy, balanced diet low in sugar, including drinks
  • visiting your dentist regularly

Ask your dentist about whether sealants can put extra power behind your prevention program.

What else can dentist do to make teeth healthier?

Dentists can do all sorts of things. The ADA recommends regular checkups, particularly around back-to-school time. To get the best appointment time, make the appointment when the spring report cards come out. The best appointment times are when you or your child is not tired or hungry.

Another tool to keep teeth healthy is fluoride. According to the ADA, fluoride can make teeth stronger, prevent cavities and even reverse early tooth decay. Fluoride is like the superhero against sugar and acids for teeth. There are many ways to access fluoride. The dentist can apply fluoride to teeth during an appointment. Fluoride is also found in some community water systems and mouth rinses. For Rowan County, fluoride is found in the water systems of East Spencer, Kannapolis, Landis and Salisbury. For people who do not live in these areas, a trip to the dentist for fluoride is especially important.

Know someone who would benefit from sealants and other things that make teeth healthy?

Rowan County Health Department’s Smile Center loves to help make teeth look and feel good for the long term. Open Monday – Thursday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Smile Center is here to help challenge Christie Brinkley and Denzel Washington for the Best Smile award. The Smile Center accepts Medicaid, Health Choice and private insurance, and provides care on a sliding fee scale based on family size and income if you are not eligible for Medicaid or Health Choice. You can make an appointment by calling the Smile Center at 704-216-8796. The Smile Center is located at 1811 East Innes St., Salisbury.

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