New technologies are helping more folks maintain their pearly whites.
If the most obvious route to saving your smile is prevention, then the least known method is sealants.
A dental sealant is a thin plastic film painted on the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars, the teeth in front of molars. A dentist applies an etching solution or gel to the tooth's enamel, then brushes on the sealant material and allows it to harden -- either by itself or after treatment with a special light. A dentist can place a sealant on a tooth in about five minutes.
Sealants can help prevent cavities in anyone's teeth, but they can be especially beneficial in children because of the protection they offer and potential cost savings in cavities. When properly applied and maintained, sealants are 100 percent effective in protecting a tooth surface from decay. They last from five to 10 years.
On average, a sealant for a single tooth costs about $50, which is roughly the cost to fill a cavity, but many insurance plans don't cover sealants.
Dentists disagree on sealants' effectiveness. Some dentists say that fluoridated water and better dentistry have lowered the number of cavities an average child gets, so putting sealants on teeth that will probably be cavity-free anyway is a waste of money. But other dentists believe that putting sealants on molars -- the teeth most susceptible to cavities -- saves money in the long run.