Sealants: Are They Safe for Children

Many dentists are in favor of applying dental sealants to children’s teeth to prevent dental caries, better known as cavities.  Sealants are air-tight plastic seals that are meant for the chewing surfaces of molars and are applied to the surface of many children’s molars when they erupt.

The American Dental Association states that the sealants, which last for several years, seal out food and plaque that toothbrushes cannot reach.  A study last year by the Cochrane Collaboration found that 5-to-10 year-olds who had sealants applied to their teeth, had less than half the decay on the biting surfaces five years after treatment than those who brushed regularly but did not receive sealants on their teeth.

Regardless that sealants have been proven to reduce the decay in the chewing surfaces of molars, there are those researchers and other dental professionals who feel sealants are unsafe to use because they contain BPA. Although the FDA states the compound safe, according to some researchers, BPA may cause diabetes, cancer, and may also accelerate puberty in children.  This alarm over BPA has caused some sealant companies to create new formulations of sealants that do not contain BPA.

An expert on the issue, Joel Berg, who is the spokesperson for The Academy of Pediatric Dentistry as well an chairman of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Washington, states that the BPA compound used in most sealants today has such large molecules that the compound is “much less likely to leach and much less absorbable in the mouth.”  He also stated there has not been a study showing any concern over the large molecules.  He said, “It’s the small molecules that you worry about.  They can move around and attach.”

He did admit, however, that using highly sensitive tools, trace amounts of BPA can be detected in the mouth. He still strongly recommends sealants for those children who need them for the prevention of cavities.

Dr. Frederick S. vom Saal, Ph. D, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri, disagrees with Dr. Berg.  Dr. Saal said, “Don’t tell me that trace amounts of BPA and BPA-DMA don’t matter. That’s not true for these chemicals.”  He believes along with other international experts, that trace amounts of these compounds pose a threat.  BPA, according to Dr. Saal, may expose kids to estrogen as it is associated with prostate and mammary cancer and damage to the ovaries in animal studies.  By sealing children’s teeth, we are exposing them to estrogen at a time in their lives when they should not be exposed.  We do not know what the consequences are of adding this compound into the development stage of children’s lives.

Dr. Saal did add, however, that if your child has a great need for sealants based on a medical issue, make sure your dentist is doing everything to limit the child’s exposure during application of the sealants.  He believes the dental industry needs to conduct studies on sealants and publish the findings for dentists, and feels it is an obligation of the part of the medical community to look into the issue of whether or not sealants that contain BPA may be harmful to children.