How a Fissure Sealant Keeps Molars Safe from Decay

The term "tooth fissure" sounds like an oral injury, but it actually describes the natural structure in the molars. A fissure sealant helps protect this dental landscape from developing plaque, food particles and cavities. Most dentists recommend them for children as their permanent teeth come in so the teeth are more likely to remain healthy entering adulthood.

What Are Pits and Fissures?

The surfaces of molars are naturally irregular, allowing your tooth surfaces to grind food as you chew. Dentists classify these dips and valleys as "pits" and "fissures," and some people have deeper pits and fissures in their molars than others. In fact, different teeth in the same mouth can have different patterns of pits and fissures as well. Fissures in one molar could be very deep, for instance, whereas those in the adjacent tooth may be shallower.

Although the rough surfaces of your molars are necessary for them to properly grind food, they're also more likely to collect excess particles that lead to tooth decay. They also provide more surface area on which plaque can build up and calcify. Keep in mind deep fissures are harder to clean, so it's harder for you to brush out all the lingering food, sugars and developing plaque on these teeth every morning and night.

Thorough brushing is even more difficult for small children, who, according to the American Dental Association, are more likely to get cavities than adults. The first permanent molars arrive at roughly six years of age, and are meant to last your whole life. But fissure decay can damage these teeth at an early age, requiring restoration that, although effective, can reduce the lifespan of the tooth.

How Do These Sealants Prevent Cavities?

A fissure sealant is a very effective method of protecting molars from decay during childhood. Designed as a coating to be painted over the teeth, this preventive material creates a barrier between the enamel and the bacteria that would otherwise build up freely. Sealants provide unique protection in deep fissures, where your toothbrush can't reach without affecting your ability to chew or causing any permanent changes to the enamel.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sealants help prevent long-term damage that can occur as a result of decay and subsequent restoration, such as fillings. You and your dentist can decide together which teeth are most likely to benefit from a sealant.

Highly effective they may be in preventing cavities, however, you shouldn't stop taking care of your teeth. Use a high-quality fluoride toothpaste like Colgate TotalSF Advanced Deep Clean, brush and floss regularly and be sure to see your dentist at consistent intervals twice a year.

How Are They Applied?

A fissure sealant is easy to apply, and the procedure can be performed in just a few minutes right in your local dentist's office. The dentist or dental hygienist starts by cleaning the tooth with a pumice paste, then applies an etch material which works to slightly roughen the tooth's surface. This helps the sealant adhere more easily. After the etch material is placed, the tooth is rinsed and dried and the sealant will be painted on. The resin used for the sealant must be hardened using a curing light a few minutes. Once the resin is fully cured, the sealant will protect your tooth for the next five to 10 years.

Sealants can wear off over time, so your dentist will check them at each regular appointment. If they have become worn or broken, expect him or her to replace them so your tooth can stay protected. Luckily, the sealant isn't uncomfortable – you may not even notice it – although your tooth might feel smoother. The resin used is usually clear, white or tooth-colored, so it also won't show very well when you talk or smile.

Sealants are most commonly used for children, but adults can benefit from this treatment as well. If you have deep tooth fissures as an adult, they are susceptible to decay. Feel free to speak with your dentist about receiving a sealant to protect them.

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.