What Are Dental Sealants?
Dental Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Germs in the mouth use the sugar in food to make acids that can create a cavity in the tooth over time. Sealants prevent these acids from penetrating the tooth. If a small cavity is accidentally covered by a sealant, the decay will not spread because it is sealed off from its food and germ supply. Even though dental sealants have been around since the 1960s, fewer than 25 percent of children in the United States have sealants on their teeth.
Getting sealants put on is simple and painless. Sealants are painted on as a liquid and quickly harden to form a shield over the tooth. Sealants can last up to 10 years, but should be checked regularly by a dental professional.
How Are Sealants Put On?
- The tooth is cleaned with an abrasive powder.
- The tooth is dried, and cotton is put around the tooth so it stays dry.
- A solution is put on the tooth that makes the surface a little rough. (It is easier for the sealant to stick to a slightly rough surface.
- The tooth is rinsed and dried. Then new cotton is put around the tooth so it stays dry.
- The sealant is painted on the tooth and hardens in a few seconds.
- The sealant is in place.
Why Get Dental Sealants?
The most important reason for getting sealants is to avoid tooth decay. Fluoride in toothpaste and in drinking water protects the smooth surfaces of teeth but back teeth need extra protection. Sealants cover the chewing surfaces of the back teeth and keep out germs and food. The chewing surfaces of back teeth are rough and uneven because they have small pits and grooves. Food and germs can get stuck in the pits and grooves and stay there a long time because toothbrush bristles cannot brush them away.
Having sealants put on teeth before they begin to decay also saves time and money in the long run by avoiding fillings, crowns, or caps used to fix decayed teeth.
Who Should Get Dental Sealants?
Children should get sealants on their permanent molars as soon as the teeth come in—before decay attacks the teeth.
- The first permanent molars (called “6 year molars”) come in between the ages of 5 and 7.
- The second permanent molars (called “12 year molars”) come in when a child is between 11 and 14 years old.
- Other teeth with pits and grooves also might need to be sealed.
- Teenagers and young adults who are likely to get decay may also need sealants.
- Your dentist might think it is a good idea to put sealants on baby teeth, especially if your child’s baby teeth have deep pits and grooves.