What Are Dental Sealants?

by: Dr. Tom Swanlund

Catch Cavities Early!

For many children and adults, dental decay starts in the deep pits and grooves of teeth. These areas can be hard to clean and thus cavities may start. Knowing this your dentist may recommend sealants be placed on your child's teeth to help prevent dental decay. Sealants can prevent decay on tooth surfaces with pits and grooves where dental plaque can stick to the tooth.

What is a dental sealant?

A dental sealant is a plastic dental material that is placed over the pits and grooves on teeth to prevent food from sticking in them and cavities forming. The sealant bonds onto the pits and grooves which acts as a barrier protecting the enamel from dental plaque and acids that cause cavities. Sealants are typically not used on teeth that already have fillings. Sealants are a preventative dental procedure but should be a part of total preventative dental care including brushing, flossing, healthy food choices, optimal fluoride exposure, and regular dental visits.

How is a dental sealant placed?

Dental sealants can be placed by dentists and dental hygienists. The procedure is quick and painless. The pits and grooves of the teeth are fully cleaned and treated with a dental bond that allows the sealant material to stick. The sealant is then painted on as a liquid and hardens with light activation into a solid shell on the tooth.

Do I need fluoride toothpaste if I have sealants?

Fluorides such as those in some community's water supply, toothpaste, gels, varnishes, and mouthwashes also help prevent cavities. Fluoride and dental sealants are both a part of preventative dental care.

How long do sealants last?

Sealants usually hold up quite well under the force of normal eating and chewing. They may last several years before another application is needed. As long as the sealant is in place it will protect the pits and grooves of that tooth from decay. On regular dental visits, your dental professional will check to see if it needs to be replaced.

Who is a candidate for sealants?

Typically sealants are placed on children once a tooth erupts to prevent a cavity from forming on it. Some adults who are at high risk for dental decay may also be candidates for sealants. Your dentist can determine which teeth are best for a dental sealant.