Preventing and Halting Tooth Decay With Sealants

One of the most common spots for tooth decay to develop is on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, also known as the premolars and molars. If you run your tongue along the chewing surfaces, you will feel rough grooves. The grooves, which are called pits and fissures, help to grind food.

Daily brushing and flossing help remove food particles and bacteria from the smooth surfaces along the sides of and between the teeth. However, pits and fissures are more difficult to keep clean. Toothbrush bristles cannot reach into the microscopic grooves to remove tiny particles of food or plaque.

Because pits and fissures are difficult to keep clean, your dentist may recommend protecting them with dental sealants, a special plastic coating that covers and seals the chewing surfaces. Sealants act as a barrier, protecting tooth enamel from plaque bacteria and acid.

Dentists have used sealants to protect teeth for several decades. They are safe and effective in preventing tooth decay. The likelihood of developing tooth decay on the chewing surfaces begins early in life, so children and teenagers are obvious candidates for sealants. Adults also can benefit from sealants, because one never outgrows tooth decay.

New research shows that dental sealants not only protect healthy teeth from decay, but they also can stop decay in its earliest stages, sealing in the bacteria and preventing a cavity that otherwise would require a restoration (filling).

The procedure is simple and quick with little, if any, discomfort. First, the dentist thoroughly cleans and prepares the teeth to be sealed. The dentist then applies the sealant to the tooth's chewing surface, where it bonds with the enamel. He or she may use a special curing light to help the sealant harden. The procedure requires one short visit.

As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth's chewing surface will be protected from decay. Sealants, which hold up well under the incredible force of everyday chewing, may last for years before a reapplication is needed. However, no two mouths are the same, and chewing or grinding can cause sealants to wear at different rates. Regular dental visits are important so that your dentist can check the sealant and reapply it as needed.

Talk with your dentist to determine if dental sealants can help protect your teeth.

© 2017 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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What to Expect During a SEALANT Procedure

Placing dental sealants is usually painless and doesn't require drilling or numbing medications.

  1. Tooth preparation – first, the dental hygienist will polish the surface of the tooth to remove plaque and food debris from the pit and fissure surfaces. Next the hygienist will isolate and dry the tooth. Then the hygienist will etch the surface of the tooth, rinse off the etching material and dry the tooth.

  2. Sealant application – 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.

  3. Evaluation – 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.

Teeth are sealed, what’s next?

Brushing is still important even after sealants. Try one of these products to help keep your teeth clean and healthy.