The Difference between a Dental Filling and a Dental Sealant

Dental patients are often confused by the difference between receiving a dental filling and having a dental sealant applied to a tooth. Both are necessary for helping patients who are experiencing discomfort or pain feel better, eat properly, and above all, make their smile looks its best. Although the two are similar in many facets, each one serves a very specific purpose.

While fillings and sealants both help repair a tooth, one is often employed to fix damage that has already been done and the other is used to help reduce or prevent further damage from taking place. Fillings and sealants are available in a variety of materials and colors.  Both are expected to last for a lengthy period of time, though one is considered more temporary than the other.

Choosing a Filling or a Sealant

A filling is typically used to repair and restore damage to a tooth caused by decay. Cavities that are rived in a tooth as a result of that decay must be filled in to avoid pain and additional cavity-related damage. Dentists in Birmingham, AL will fill in a cavity with filling material after the decay has been cleaned out and removed. Once that work has been completed, the filling material is applied to the open area to minimize more damage from occurring.

Sealants serve a similar purpose in protecting against damage, but they are often applied at an early stage to prevent tooth decay in the mouths of young children. Most dentists recommend that children get sealants once permanent teeth grow in fully, usually after the age of 13.

But people of all ages can receive sealant treatments to fill in the small, tiny crevices along the surface of their teeth. Acting as an outer layer along the enamel, the sealant is tasked with shielding the tooth from food particles that can promote decay and bacteria. When those substances get trapped in the natural grooves of the tooth, the enamel can break down; this is how cavities start to develop.

Different Materials

Fillings and sealants each come in a variety of available materials. For fillings, patients can choose from composite or amalgam materials. The former usually incorporates a mixture of silver, zinc, and copper while the latter involves plastic or glass-based material. To prevent these fillings from being seen as silver blobs in your teeth, you can opt for filling material in a tooth-colored hue.

The material used in creating sealants is primarily made of plastic and is painted on as a liquid that forms a hard barrier to safeguard the surface of the tooth. Sealants have a clear, tooth-colored coating that you won’t even notice is there. They start as a liquid, running into and covering every groove and crevice in the tooth’s surface. This process is followed by exposure to UV light which hardens the sealant in order to form the rigid barrier.

Differences in Durability

Fillings and sealants are designed to last for years under proper oral hygiene. There are, however, marked differences between the stability of each. Fillings are applied as fill materials placed inside of a tooth cavity. Those materials are built from stronger resources to ensure the longer life of the filling.

Sealants are painted along the exterior of the tooth which makes it more vulnerable to removal by way of chewing, teeth grinding, or eating sticky or abrasive foods. All of these can help rub the sealant away.  Therefore, by their nature, sealants have a tendency to erode and prove temporary in comparison to the much stronger filling material.

Deciding Which is Best for You

The decision as to whether you should go with a filling or a sealant is predicated upon the condition of the tooth, the type of damage that it has sustained, and the extent of that damage. Go to any dentist in Birmingham, AL who can advise you on which of the two will provide a better solution to your tooth repair and restorative necessities.

The cost of a filling versus a sealant may also come into play when you’re considering one of the two options.  Certain materials may cost more than others.  Also, the amount of decay that your dentist needs to clean up before either one can be applied will also contribute to your cost of seeing a dentist in Birmingham, AL.