Dental terms, such as fillings and sealants, can seem a bit confusing. After all, dental fillings and dental sealants are both applied to the teeth during procedures that take less than a half hour. In addition, they both seem to coat or shield the teeth. Nevertheless, fillings and sealants are different.
Fillings and sealants differ in many ways, such as their purpose, materials, and longevity. Here is a bit of information about the two applications to make their differences a bit clearer.
Restorative Versus Preventive
Both fillings and sealants are used to treat the teeth. However, fillings are considered restorative applications. Sealants, on the other hand, are preventive. A filling is used to repair damage that has occurred to a tooth, usually from dental decay. A sealant is used to cover a portion of a tooth to prevent damage from occurring.
A filling is necessary to restore a tooth after a cavity or hole has formed from tooth decay. Tooth decay is damage to a tooth’s enamel from oral acids. The acids dissolve the minerals that make up the enamel, such as phosphorous and calcium. This dissolution weakens the tooth enamel and causes holes or cavities to form in the material.
Once a cavity has formed, in order to treat the tooth, the dentist removes the decayed portion of the enamel, cleans the area, and fills in the hole. The filling prevents additional damage to the tooth by blocking the entry of oral bacteria that could cause an infection or greater decay.
Sealants may be applied to a tooth that has not suffered any decay. They are usually added to the chewing surfaces of the molars. These areas are deeply grooved and allow food and plaque to easily settle on the teeth. The sealants help fill the grooves, while simultaneously forming a barrier to protect the teeth from oral acids.
Since oral acids are byproducts that are released by the bacteria of the mouth after digestion, the deep grooves of the molars are the perfect setting for decay. Bacteria feed on carbohydrates that are left in the mouth, and the deep crevices trap leftover debris from meals and snacks. The bacteria mixes with the debris to form plaque, which sticks to the teeth and allows the acid to make direct contact with the enamel before the acid is significantly diluted by saliva. As a result, tooth decay is more likely.
Dental sealants shield the tooth enamel from the oral acid and plaque. Thus, the teeth are protected from decay.
Various Materials Versus Plastic
Dental fillings and dental sealants are often made of different materials. Dental fillings are typically made from a wide variety of materials, and sealants are usually made of plastic.
Dental fillings are available in many different materials. Dental professionals and their patients can select fillings that are made of silver amalgam, porcelain, composite resin, or gold. Silver amalgam is formed by mixing liquid mercury with an alloy of copper, silver, and tin.
Depending on the location of a filling and the cosmetic desires of the patient, a tooth-colored material, such as porcelain or composite resin, may be preferred. The color of these materials can be easily matched to the color of the patient’s teeth.
Dental sealants are made of plastic. They are applied to the teeth as a liquid, but they quickly harden when exposed to a special UV light. The resulting plastic barrier is clear but strong.
Permanent Versus Temporary
Both fillings and sealants are long-lasting. However, fillings are considered permanent applications, and sealants are deemed temporary.
A filling rarely requires replacement. The materials used to fill a tooth are usually durable enough to withstand regular bite pressure with little wear.
Dental sealants are strong. However, since the coating is on the outer chewing surface where the grinding of your food takes place, a dental sealant wears away more easily than a filling. Over time, the sealant will erode and require a subsequent application. Still, a dental sealant may remain in good condition for several years.
For more information about dental fillings and sealants, contact our office to schedule a consultation.