What are Dental Sealants?A dental sealant is a thin plastic coating (usually clear or white in color) that is applied to the chewing surface of your tooth, which shields the enamel from decay by “sealing out” food, plaque, and bacteria. Dental sealants are designed to prevent the need for dental fillings. They are easy to apply and require no drilling to the enamel or dentin. Dental sealants are invisible--no one will even notice they are there, but they can make a big difference in whether or not your tooth gets a cavity or not.
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), "sealant placement in children and adolescents has shown a reduction of cavities' incidence [by] 86 percent after one year and 58 percent after four years." Despite your best brushing and flossing efforts, some food particles and plaque can’t be reached by the bristles of your toothbrush. Deep depressions and grooves in teeth trap food particles and allow plaque to build. The bacteria in plaque uses the sugars in your food to produce acids that eat away at the tooth enamel. Plaque assaults cause the enamel to break down, eventually resulting in a cavity (or hole) in the tooth surface.
When Are Dental Sealants Most Effective?Although sealants are usually recommended for children and teenagers, they are also an effective preventative treatment option for adult patients with no tooth decay or fillings in their back teeth. Dental sealants are especially recommended for children because the natural shape of their growing teeth are more prone to cavities. When first molars come in around age 6, deep crevices can form on the chewing surfaces of these back teeth. Dental sealants seal out decay to prevent pit and fissure cavities in children.
Dental sealants are applied on permanent teeth that are newly erupted, or are at risk for developing cavities. Baby teeth are not commonly treated with dental sealants.
What to Expect When Receiving a Dental SealantOne of the other advantages of dental sealants is they are easy to apply and don’t require any numbing. The procedure is painless. Here is what you can expect at your appointment:
- Tooth preparation – first, a dental hygienist will polish the surface of the tooth receiving the sealant to remove plaque and food debris from the pit and fissure surfaces. Then, the hygienist will isolate and dry the tooth to prepare the tooth for the etching step. The hygienist will etch the surface of the tooth to create a better, stronger application for the sealant. The etching material will be rinsed off your tooth and the tooth will then be allowed to dry.
- Sealant application – the hygienist will apply the dental sealant material to the surface of the tooth with a brush. Following this easy painting application, the sealant material will be bonded to the tooth surface with a self-curing light (for about 30 seconds).
- Evaluation – Both the dental hygienist and dentist will evaluate the dental sealant and check its occlusion--how it affects your bite. Once the dental sealant has hardened it becomes a strong plastic coating, and you can chew on the tooth again.Once the sealant is dry and secure, your appointment is finished and you can immediately chew food with your newly sealed teeth--it’s that easy!
What Comes Next?After you have received your dental sealant, it is still important to continue practicing good brushing, flossing and fluoride habits. Dental sealants only protect the surface area of your tooth. The other parts of the tooth are still susceptible to decay. Fluoride guards all the surfaces of your tooth from decay and cavities. Once placed, your dental sealant can provide the surface of your tooth protection for many years. In the future, if you need to have a new dental sealant placed on the tooth you are able to do so.