Sealants, also referred to as dental sealants, consist of a plastic material that is placed on the chewing (occlusal) surface of the permanent back teeth — the molars and premolars — to help protect them from bacteria and acids that contribute to tooth decay. The plastic resin in sealants is placed by a dental hygienist into the depressions and grooves of the chewing surfaces of back teeth and a light is utilized to cure it to the enamel which acts as a barrier, protecting the enamel surface of the teeth from plaque and acids.
Thorough brushing and flossing helps remove food particles and plaque from the smooth surfaces of teeth, but toothbrushes can't reach all the way into the depressions and grooves to extract all food and plaque. Plaque accumulates in these areas, and the acid from bacteria in the plaque attacks the enamel, causing cavities to develop. While fluoride helps prevent decay and helps protect all the surfaces of the teeth, dental sealants add extra protection for the grooved and pitted areas. Sealants can help protect these vulnerable areas by "sealing out" plaque and food debris from the occlusal surfaces of the teeth.
Placing dental sealants is usually painless and doesn't require drilling or numbing medications.
- First, the dental hygienist will polish the surface of the tooth with a pumice material to remove plaque and food debris from the pit and fissure surfaces of the teeth selected for sealant placement.
- Next, the hygienist will isolate and dry the tooth so that saliva doesn't cover the pit and fissure surfaces. Then the hygienist will etch the surface of the tooth in the pit and fissure areas, rinse off the etching material and dry the tooth.
- The hygienist will apply the dental sealant material to the surface of the tooth with a brush; a self-curing light will be used for about 30 seconds to bond the sealant to the tooth surface.
- Finally, the dental hygienist and dentist will evaluate the dental sealant and check its occlusion. Once the dental sealant has hardened it becomes a hard plastic coating, and you can chew on the tooth again.
Most of the time, the dental sealant is applied soon after the tooth has erupted through the gums, normally between six and twelve years of age. Sealants can be used for older children and even adults whose teeth have deep grooves and pits in them. Your dentist can help you decide when the right time is to undergo the treatment.
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 of the sealant is needed. During your regular dental visits, your dentist will check the condition of the sealants and reapply them when necessary.