Dental sealants are thin, plastic coatings that are bonded to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (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.
The sealants act as a physical barrier to bacteria and acid from leftover food which can lead to decay. In most cases they reduce the risk for decay by nearly 80%. Studies also show that sealants may actually stop cavities from forming 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. Sealants will often last several years before they need to be reapplied.
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. According to the CDC, sealants should be used as part of a child's total preventive dental care. But the CDC reports that in 2016 only about 43 out of 100 children between ages 6 and 11 have dental sealants. A complete preventive dental program includes:
Good home care
Careful food choices
Regular dental care
Sealants also 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.
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 several years. If sealants are chipped or lost, they can easily be redone.