What are dental sealants?
Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings that seal over the narrow grooves found on the chewing surfaces of back teeth (molars and premolars).
When placed perfectly on these deep pits, sealants can prevent a significant amount of tooth decay (cavities) by protecting sensitive tooth surfaces from acid that causes cavities.
Sealants are not generally placed on baby teeth but the tooth enamel of permanent teeth (“adult” teeth).
Dental sealants function much like sealing cracks in a driveway or on the sidewalk. The grooves in the chewing surfaces of back teeth are sealed so that food particles and bacteria will not settle within the fissures, causing cavities.
How are sealants applied to teeth?
Sealant placement is a relatively easy process.
First, the teeth are cleaned of plaque or food particles and then thoroughly examined for tooth decay. Each tooth is dried and surrounded by absorbent material so it remains dry throughout the procedure. The tooth is cleaned with a mild etchant (acid etch solution) to roughen the tooth surface and encourage bonding of the sealant material. The etchant is rinsed and the teeth are dried again.
Depending on your material of choice, a thin layer of bonding agent may be used before the placement of the very viscous sealant material. The sealant is painted directly onto the chewing surface of each tooth. Finally, a curing light may be used to harden the dental sealant.
The teeth must be nicely isolated so no contaminants, such as saliva, affect the bond. Ozone gas can be applied to ensure bacteria on or around the tooth is reduced or eliminated before sealing.
If a small cavity is detected, an air abrasion or a dental laser or drill can be used to clean out the infection before any material placement.
How do I care for my sealants?
Dental sealants are easy to care for and can be brushed and flossed as normal. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and a toothpaste using a remineralizing agent like hydroxyapatite.
They may stain with diets high in berries, coffee, teas, and red wine. Sealants may “pop” off if you are eating sticky, gummy, chewy foods.
Who should get dental sealants?
Children who benefit most from dental sealants include those:
- With very deep grooves in their molars
- At high risk for cavities
- Who eats a diet high in processed foods, refined flours and sugars, and sugary drinks
- With special needs that make dental hygiene and/or a healthy diet more challenging
Ideally, sealants should be placed immediately after the eruption of the first molars (around age 6) and second molars (around age 12). Sooner is better to ensure the grooves have not been affected by bacteria or early cavities.