Navigating the world of dental treatments can be confusing at times for the uninitiated, especially when it comes to choosing between dental sealants and fillings. Both options play a vital role in maintaining the health and integrity of our teeth, but understanding the distinctions between them is essential to making informed oral care decisions.
In this article, we will expand our understanding of the differences between dental sealants and fillings. We will explore their respective purposes, applications, and benefits. By shedding light on these essential dental treatments, we hope to empower you with the knowledge you need to make confident choices when it comes to preserving your radiant smile.
I. What are the differences between sealants and fillings?
First of all, it should be understood that dental sealants and fillings are both dental procedures designed to protect teeth against decay and the damage that results from it.
It can be said that they serve similar purposes despite being very distinct.
Indeed, dental sealants are above all a preventive measure. They are simply thin plastic coatings usually applied to the chewing surfaces of posterior teeth (molars and premolars) to prevent cavities from forming.
Sealants are specially used for children and teenagers, as their newly emerged permanent teeth are more likely to decay.
The application of the sealants is simple and painless: the dentist cleans the tooth, dries it, and applies an acid solution to roughen the surface.
After that, he rinses and dries the tooth again, and finally paints the sealant on the surface of the tooth.
Once cured, sealants can last for several years before needing to be replaced or touched up.
Dental fillings, on the other hand, are a restorative procedure intended to repair teeth that have already been damaged by cavities.
In this case, the dentist removes the decayed part of the tooth and fills the cavity with a dental material, such as amalgam, composite resin, glass ionomer, or porcelain.
And the choice of material depends on factors such as the extent of damage, the location of the tooth, and patient preference.
In fact, fillings are designed to restore the form, function, and aesthetics of the tooth.
They can last for many years and their durability depends on the material used as well as the oral hygiene habits of the patient.
II. Are sealants or fillings better for preventing cavities?
As just explained in the previous question, dental sealants have a mainly preventive function, acting as a barrier against caries-causing bacteria and food particles.
They are thin plastic coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars, where minor pits and cracks have been found.
Sealants are especially beneficial for children and teens, as their newly erupted permanent teeth are more prone to cavities.
By sealing these grooves, dental sealants protect teeth from plaque buildup and the development of cavities.
On the contrary, dental fillings are a restorative treatment used to repair teeth that have already developed cavities. During the procedure, a dentist removes the decayed portion of the tooth and fills the cavity with a suitable dental material.
III. What is the cost difference between dental sealants and fillings?
The cost of dental sealants varies depending on several factors, including dentist fees, geographic location, and the number of teeth to be sealed.
In the United States, the cost of dental sealants ranges on average from $30 to $60 per tooth.
In some cases, dental insurance plans may cover the cost of sealants, especially for children, as they are considered a preventative measure.
On the other hand, the cost of dental fillings usually depends on the material used, the extent of the damage, the location of the tooth, and the dentist’s fees.
There are several types of filler material, each with its own price range:
- Amalgam fillings: The average cost ranges from $50 to $150 for a one-sided filling and up to $300 for a multi-sided filling.
- Composite resin fillings: they are made of a mixture of plastic and glass particles. These fillings are popular because of their ability to match the natural color of the tooth. The average cost ranges from $90 to $250 for a single-surface infill and up to $450 for a multi-surface infill.
- Glass ionomer fillings: These fillings are often used for small cavities or in areas that are not subject to high chewing pressure. The average cost of these fillings ranges from $100 to $300 per filling.
- Porcelain or ceramic fillings: The average cost of a porcelain or ceramic filling ranges from $250 to $1,000 per filling.
IV. Can dental sealants be applied over fillings?
The answer is obviously no. It is not possible to apply a caries prevention product (usually plastic) on another much stronger product such as amalgam or ceramic.
There is no point in applying it.
V. What is the lifespan of dental sealants compared to fillings?
The lifespan of dental sealants and fillings varies considerably depending on several factors such as the materials used, the quality of manufacture, dietary habits, and above all oral hygiene which is essential to keep them longer.
Dental sealants, which are primarily preventive against cavities, can last between 5 and 10 years before. they need to be refilled if needed.
While fillings have a longer lifespan because amalgam fillings and dental fillings porcelain can last up to 15 years or more. And it must be redone or repaired so as not to damage the tooth.
VI. Are there any risks associated with sealants and fillings?
Generally, dental sealants and fillings are safe. But there are still risks, even if they are really rare. Here are some of them:
For dental sealants:
- Allergic reactions: Although rare, some people may have an allergic reaction to the materials used.
- Sealant leakage: If the sealant does not entirely cover the grooves of the tooth, bacteria can still seep in, potentially leading to cavities under the sealant.
- Dislodgement: Over time, dental sealants can wear out or dislodge, reducing their effectiveness.
- Amalgam fillings: These fillings contain a mixture of metals, including mercury. Although the small amount of mercury in amalgam is considered safe by experts, some people may be concerned about mercury exposure. Also, amalgam fillings can darken the tooth over time due to the metal content.
- Composite filling resins: Although composite fillings are tooth-colored and more aesthetic, they may not last as long as amalgam fillings. They may also be more prone to staining and require more frequent replacements.
- Glass ionomer fillings: These fillings are relatively weaker compared to other filling materials, making them less suitable for load-bearing areas. They may also be more susceptible to wear and require more frequent replacement.
- Porcelain fillings: Porcelain fillings can be quite durable, but can cause more wear on opposing teeth due to their hardness. They are also more expensive than other fillers.
Other general risks associated with dental fillings include:
- Tooth Sensitivity: After a filling procedure, patients may experience temporary tooth sensitivity to hot or cold foods and drinks. This sensitivity usually disappears within a few days to a few weeks.
- Infection: In rare cases, bacteria can infiltrate the tooth during the filling process, leading to infection and potential complications.
- Bad occlusion: If a filling is not contoured correctly, it can lead to an uneven occlusion, causing discomfort and requiring further adjustments.
VII. Are dental sealants and fillings safe for children?
Dental sealants and fillings are generally considered safe and effective for children.
VIII. Can dental sealants and fillings cause tooth sensitivity?
dental sealants rarely cause tooth sensitivity, however, dental fillings are more likely to cause temporary sensitivity.
Tooth sensitivity following a dental filling procedure is usually temporary and most often disappears within a few days to a few weeks.
Over-the-counter pain relievers and kinds of toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth can help relieve discomfort and pain during this time.
IX. Can dental sealants and fillings be removed or replaced?
Dental sealants and fillings sometimes need to be removed or replaced for a variety of reasons, including wear and tear, physical damage, or simply recurring cavities.
Dental sealants are designed to last for many years. But they can wear out, dislodge or lose their effectiveness over time.
To replace them, the dentist begins by gently removing the existing sealant with a specialized instrument, without damaging the underlying tooth structure.
Once the old sealant is removed, a new layer of sealant can be applied to the tooth surface. This renews the protection against cavities.
For dental fillings, replacement is relatively complex. The dentist first administers a local anesthetic to numb the area.
He or she then uses a special instrument to remove the old filling material and any cavities.
Once the old filling and decay are removed, the dentist cleans and prepares the tooth for a new filling.
X. How do I know if I need dental sealants or fillings?
It is undeniable that to know if we need a sealant or a filling we need regular dental examinations to identify the need for these treatments.
Dental sealants are generally applied to permanent molars and premolars as they emerge, usually between 6 and 12 years of age.
They are generally advised when one is left with deep grooves and cracks, as well as a high risk of decay.
Regarding dental filling, it is often applied following tooth decay after cleaning the cavity.