What are dental sealants?
A sealant is a plastic material that is applied to the chewing surfaces of the permanent back teeth- premolars and molars. This plastic resin bonds into the depressions and grooves (pits and fissures) of the chewing surfaces of the teeth. The sealant acts as a barrier, protecting enamel from plaque and acids.
Thorough brushing and flossing help remove food particles and plaque from smooth surfaces of teeth; however, toothbrush bristles cannot reach all the way into depressions and grooves to extract food and plaque. Sealants protect these vulnerable areas by “sealing out” plaque and food. Below is a magnified image of a single bristle from a toothbrush against the groove of a tooth. See how the bristle cannot reach the full depth of our grooves.
Pit and fissure caries (cavities) account for approximately 80 to 90 percent of all caries in permanent posterior teeth and 44 percent in primary teeth. Pit and fissure sealant has been described as a material placed into the pits and fissures of caries-susceptible teeth that micromechanically bonds to the tooth preventing access by cariogenic bacteria to their source of nutrients, thus reducing the risk of caries in those susceptible pits and fissures.
Studies incorporating patients that are seen every 6 months for cleanings and exams have reported sealant success levels of 80 to 90 percent after 10 or more years.
Is sealant application a complicated procedure?
Sealants are easy to apply, and it only takes a few minutes to seal each tooth. The teeth that will be sealed are cleaned, then the chewing surfaces are roughened with an acid solution to help the sealant adhere to the tooth. The sealant is then ‘painted’ onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. A special curing light is used to help the sealant harden. The 2 most important things are to 1) Remove the plaque on the tooth and 2) Keep the tooth dry and isolated. We use a special brush to remove the plaque, and a special straw to isolate the teeth and keep them dry during the procedure.
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 and usually last several years before a reapplication is needed. During your regular dental visits, your dentist will check the condition of the sealants and reapply them when necessary.
Sealants are just for kids, right?
The likelihood of developing pit and fissure decay begins early in life, so children and teenagers are obvious candidates. But adults can benefit from sealants as well. Children as young as 6 can have sealants applied if their permanent molars have grown in far enough to keep them isolated from oral fluids while the sealant is applied.
What about sealants for baby teeth?
We do not routinely recommend sealants on baby molars due to the fact that their grooves are not normally as deep as permanent molars. Additionally, even though placing sealants is an easy process, sometimes it can be difficult to isolate a young child’s baby molar, which can compromise the integrity of the sealant. That being said, sometimes your dentist may recommend sealants on baby teeth due to high risk for decay, and if these can be placed efficiently, then they will definitely help prevent cavities in the grooves of these teeth!
I hope this blog was helpful and educational. Please let us know what you think, and write us with any other topics you would like to learn about!