Dental Sealants

What are dental sealants?

Dental sealants are thin, plastic films bonded to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, the molars and premolars. Sealants are very good at preventing tooth decay (cavities). They work very well on the back teeth. These teeth contain more hard-to-reach pits and grooves, where food debris and bacteria can settle.

How effective are dental sealants?

The sealants act as a physical barrier to bacteria and acid from leftover food which can lead to decay. In most cases they provide 100% protection, as long as they stay intact. Studies also show that sealants actually stop cavities when placed on top of a slightly decayed tooth. This action seals off nutrients to the bacteria that causes the cavity. The dental sealant doesn't work when all or part of the bond between the tooth and the sealant is broken.

Who are likely candidates for dental sealants?

Adults can benefit from sealants. But they are most helpful for children. That's because their newly erupted, adult (permanent) teeth are most at risk for cavities. These teeth are also least helped by fluoride. According to the CDC, sealants should be used as part of a child's total preventive dental care. But the CDC reports that only about 43 out of 100 children between ages 6 and 11 have dental sealants. A complete preventive dental program includes:

  • Sealants

  • Fluoride

  • Plaque removal

  • Good home care

  • Careful food choices

  • Regular dental care

In addition, sealants help keep teeth healthy. Each time a tooth is filled due to tooth decay, more tooth structure is lost. Fillings last an average of 6 to 8 years. After that time they need to be replaced. So sealants often save time and money, reduce the discomfort of dental treatment procedures, and keep the tooth healthy.

How is the procedure done?

The procedure starts with cleaning the surface of the tooth and rinsing the surface to remove all traces of the cleaning agent. Then the tooth is dried. An acidic solution or gel is put on the tooth's surface, including the pits and grooves. This is done to make the surface rough. After a few seconds, the solution is completely rinsed away with water and the site is dried. The liquid sealant is then applied and allowed to harden. Or it can be hardened with a special blue light (curing light). 

With correct oral hygiene, sealants may last 5 to 10 years. If sealants are chipped or lost, they can easily be redone. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Maryann Foley RN BSNMichael Kapner MDPaula Goode RN BSN MSN

Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019

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