A sealant is a clear, acrylic-like material that bonds with the tooth to help shield out decay-causing bacteria from the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. They form a protective barrier covering the pits and fissures (depressions and grooves) to prevent cavities in hard to clean back teeth.
Sealants are a safe, painless, and low-cost way to protect patient’s teeth - particularly children. Sealants have been used on children’s teeth for more than 10 years to keep food and bacteria from getting into the tine grooves of their developing teeth. Children’s cavities occur most often in these areas because the bristles of a toothbrush are often to wide to enter the area, even with vigorous brushing. To complicate matters, tooth enamel is thinner in pits and fissures than in other areas of the tooth, so they are particularly vulnerable to decay. Decay occurs as bacteria acts on food to form acids that weaken and destroy tooth enamel. After decay starts and a cavity is formed it must be repaired by a dentist to save the tooth. Although fluoride use has reduced the incidence of tooth decay, it is of limited use in protecting pits and fissures. This is why sealants are an invaluable form of protection, since they provide a true shield form decay-causing agents.
Children are often better candidates than adults for this treatment because sealants can only be applied if teeth are free of decay and fillings, which is most often the case with new teeth in children.
When should children get sealants?
Sealants should be applied as soon as the first permanent molars (6-year molars) come in, between 5 and 7 years of age. The second molars (12-year molars) and the premolars should be sealed as soon as they come in, between 11 and 14 years of age. That’s because the greatest chance of decay occurs during the first year after the teeth come in. However, it’s never too late to apply sealants, as long as the teeth are free of decay and fillings.
What about baby teeth?
The baby molars often don’t need to be sealed. However, we may recommend sealing baby molars if there is a high risk of decay. Since baby teeth are “space holders, losing baby molars form decay can cause crowding when the permanent teeth come in.
How long does a sealant last?
Sealants are usually long-lasting if the seal remains intact. Regular checkups are necessary to make sure the sealant has not been dislodged and to reapply if needed. Some hard foods, such as candy, ice, or sticky foods, may dislodge sealants and should be avoided.
When are sealants not recommended?
If the decay process has already started, it is too late to apply sealants as a preventative measure. Decay will not start under a fissure sealant because the decay-causing organisms are deprived of food and oxygen that is required for them to flourish. therefore, some teeth may not be good candidates for sealing while others may be fine. Only your dentist can make that decision.
There is no discomfort associated with sealant application, so numbing is not necessary. The treatment is done in three quick, ease steps. Sealants are barely visible because they are white or tooth-colored which is an esthetic advantage of the treatment.