What are dental sealants?
Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth.
Sealants are put on in dentists' offices, clinics, and sometimes in schools. 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.
How are sealants put on?
Why get 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. Having sealants put on teeth before they decay will also save time and money in the long run by avoiding fillings, crowns, or caps used to fix decayed teeth.
What causes tooth decay?
Germs in the mouth use the sugar in food to make acids. Over time, the acids can make a cavity in the tooth. Of course a healthy tooth is the best tooth. So it is important to prevent decay. That's why sealants are so important.
Why do back teeth decay so easily?
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.
Who should get 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 — "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 prone to decay may also need sealants.
How long do sealants last?
Sealants can last up to 10 years. But they need to be checked at regular dental check-ups to make sure they are not chipped or worn away. The dentist or dental hygienist can repair sealants by adding more sealant material. What 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.
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
National Institutes of Health
Bethesda, MD 20892-2190