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What are dental sealants?

Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings that are applied to the chewing surfaces of the molars (back teeth). This plastic resin bonds into the depressions and grooves (pits and fissures) of the chewing surfaces of back teeth. The sealant acts as a barrier, protecting enamel from plaque and acids. Most tooth decay in children and teens occurs in these surfaces. Sealants cover the chewing surfaces to prevent decay.

Which teeth are suitable for sealants?
Permanent molars are the most likely to benefit from sealant application. First molars usually come into the mouth when a child is about six years of age. Second molars appear at about age 12. It is best if the sealant is applied soon after the molars have erupted, before the teeth have a chance to decay. For that reason, children between the ages of 5 and 15 benefit most from sealants.
How are sealants applied?
Applying sealants does not require drilling or removing tooth structure.

It is an easy 3 step process:

  • Step 1: A dentist or dental hygienist cleans the tooth and cotton or other material is put around the tooth so it stays dry.
  • Step 2: A special cleansing liquid is put on the tooth surface to make the tooth a little rough.  (It is easier for the sealant to stick to a slightly rough tooth.)
  • Step 3: The sealant is applied in liquid form and hardens in a few seconds.

Are sealants visible?
Upon close examination, sealants can be seen. They can be clear, white, or slightly tinted. Because they are used only on the back teeth, sealants cannot be seen when a child talks or smiles.

How long will sealants last?
One sealant application can last for as long as five to ten years. As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants hold up well under the force of normal chewing. During your regular dental visits, your dentist will check the condition of the sealants and reapply them when necessary.

Why is sealing a tooth better than waiting for decay and filling the cavity?
Sealants help maintain sound, intact teeth. Decay destroys the structure of the tooth. Each time a tooth is filled or a filling is replaced, additional tooth structure is lost. Fillings last an average of eight to ten years before they need to be replaced. Appropriate use of sealants can save time, money, and the discomfort associated with dental treatment procedures.

How do sealants fit into a preventive dentistry program?
Sealants should be used as part of a child’s total preventive dental care. A complete preventive dental program includes use of sealants, fluoride, plaque removal, careful food choices, and regular dental care.

Will sealants replace fluoride?
No. Fluorides, like those used in community water, toothpaste, and mouth rinse, also help to prevent decay. Fluoride works best on the smooth surfaces of teeth. The chewing surfaces on the back teeth, however, have tiny grooves where decay often begins. Sealants keep germs out of the grooves by covering them with a safe plastic coating. Sealants and fluoride work together to prevent almost all tooth decay.


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