Many parents bring their child to the dentist to have a dental sealant applied in order to protect their teeth from decay. But that very act may be putting their children’s health at risk. In light of the recent revelations of BPA in kid’s dental sealants, many parents are asking the question “are dental sealants safe for my child?”
According to a study in the October issue of Pediatrics, exposure to BPA from dental sealants is short-lived. However study author Dr. Abby Fleisch from Children’s Hospital Boston, noted that further research is needed to determine if BPA continues to leech from the dental sealants over a longer period of time or whether the exposure is limited to the brief interval immediately following dental procedures.
What’s the big deal, you may ask? Given that more than 95% of the population has some trace of BPA in their urine, exposure is pretty widespread. Parents need to be concerned because recent research has found that BPA poses a number of health risks, especially to growing children.
What are Dental Sealants?
Dental sealants are mechanical barriers against bacteria. Made of thin plastic, the translucent coatings are applied to teeth to protect them and prevent decay and cavities. They are also used to repair cavities, malformed or broken teeth.
In kids, sealants are usually applied to molars since those teeth are in the back of the mouth and contain grooves that can be difficult to properly clean. Food particles and bacteria like to burrow into these grooves where they cause decay. Most kids have dental sealants applied to their first molars around age six and to their second molars around age twelve.
Dental sealants usually last for five to ten years. Sealants are quick, painless, strong and easy to use. Kids who have sealants tend to have fewer cavities and therefore need fewer fillings.
The Dangers of BPA
BPA, or bisphenol A, is used in some sealants used to fill cavities in kids. Although the FDA has reported that exposure to small amounts of BPA does not harm humans, skepticism abounds. Recent research has found links between BPA and heart problems, liver disease, cancer, diabetes, sexual dysfunction, male impotence, and hyperactivity in laboratory animals. It is also believed BPA causes birth defects.
Despite its own statements, in January the FDA stepped up efforts to remove BPA from the human food supply. The FDA has been working together with manufacturers to get rid of BPA in products and packaging.
BPA poses unique dangers to growing kids. First, BPA has been found to have estrogen-like properties. It can affect growing bodies just like that hormone, causing premature puberty and damage to the reproductive system. It can also affect the prostate gland in boys and the urinary tract. BPA has endocrine disrupting properties and has been linked to infant behavioral problems.
BPA and Saliva
BPA contained in dental resins are released into the bodies of kids when enzymes contained in saliva react with the sealants, releasing the chemical. Dental sealants do not contain pure BPA, merely BPA derivatives. However, once they come into contact with enzymes in saliva, some BPA derivatives break down into pure BPA. What especially concerns experts is that the BPA may be introduced into the gums near roots of the teeth where it can have an increased chance of entering the bloodstream of kids. In fact, BPA has been found in the saliva of kids up to three hours after their dental sealant was applied.
The Bottom Line
Dental issues in kids need prompt attention. Fear over the effects of BPA should not keep any parent from getting proper dental care for their child. That said there are real concerns about BPA in dental sealants. As a parent myself, I am gravely concerned about the effects of BPA on my children’s health. I avoid most plastics. When I do use plastics, I make sure they are BPA free. I would certainly not choose to put a product containing BPA into my child’s mouth, where it will stay possibly for their lifetime and possibly cause lifelong health issues. Parents have options that let their kids get proper dental care without BPA. There are dental sealants available that are BPA free. Talk to your dentist and discuss your concerns. When it comes time to use dental sealants on my own kids, I will certainly make sure they are BPA free.