It is not uncommon to encounter a patient who is confused about the differences between dental sealants and dental fillings. Frequent questions include what are they made of, when do you use one over the other, how long do they last, and so on. If you find yourself asking the same questions, we’re going to walk you through the basic differences between dental sealants and dental fillings.
One of the biggest differences between dental sealants and dental fillings is their material composition. Dental sealants are made of a tooth-colored, plastic film that is applied to the tooth’s surface. While, dental fillings are made from a composite (a mix of silver, zinc, tin and copper) or amalgam material (plastic or glass materials). Depending on the type of filling, it will appear silver or tooth-colored once it is on the tooth.
Another major difference between sealants and fillings is permanency. When proper oral hygiene is maintained, both sealants and fillings can last years, if not decades. However, dental sealants are applied through a simple painting process on the molars, making them a superficial, temporary solution. Chewing, grinding and eating sticky foods can easily wear them down. Whereas, dental filling are made up of a more durable substance and require a more invasive process to apply, extending the overall lifespan.
Sealants are necessary because bacteria find their way into the grooves of the teeth and produce acid, which causes tooth decay. Used as a preventative measure, sealants literally “seal up” developmental grooves, lines or crevices on the surface of the teeth to keep cavities at bay. Because some people are born with natural grooves in their teeth, and most people develop them over time through use, sealants often become a necessary means to preserve the teeth from further damage.
Fillings, on the other hand, are used as restorative measures after tooth decay has been identified in an existing tooth. In the process of getting the filling, a dentist will first remove all decay from the tooth. Then the filling material is painted onto the tooth as a guard against potentially harmful bacteria and further damage.
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There are many factors that go into determining whether a dental sealant or filling in the best option for you, including the current state of your tooth. When the time comes, your dentist will guide you through your options and help you to make the best-informed decision to maintain a happy and healthy mouth.