What are Dental Sealants?
Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings, which are usually applied to the grooves of the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (usually the premolars and molars). The painted-on liquid sealant quickly bonds into the depressions and grooves of the teeth, forming a protective shield over the enamel. Sealants protect the chewing surfaces from tooth decay by keeping germs and food particles out of these grooves.
Why Get Sealants?
Decay damages teeth permanently, but sealants protect them. Brushing and flossing can remove food particles and plaque from the smooth surfaces of teeth, but they cannot always get into all the pits and fissures to remove the food and plaque.
Sealants, therefore, protect these susceptible areas from tooth decay by sealing out plaque and food.
Who Should Get Sealants?
Ideally, it is best if sealants are applied soon after teeth have erupted before any decay steps in. Children and teens are therefore the prime candidates for sealants, as the first molars usually appear when a child is around 6 years old, and second molars usually come at about the age of 12. This is best so that the dental sealants can protect the teeth through the cavity-prone ages of 6 to 14.
Adults without tooth decay or fillings in their molars can also benefit from sealants. In some instances, it may also be suitable for dental sealants to be applied to deciduous (baby) teeth, especially when a baby’s teeth have deep depressions and grooves. Baby teeth are fundamental in holding the correct spacing for permanent teeth, and so it is important to keep these teeth healthy so they are not lost too early.
How Are Sealants Applied?
Applying the sealant is a simple and painless process. First, the teeth that are to be sealed are thoroughly cleaned. Each tooth is then dried and cotton or another absorbent material is put around the tooth to keep it dry.
In some instances, an acid solution is put on the chewing surfaces and any pits and fissures on the smooth surfaces of the teeth to roughen them up, which helps the sealant to bond to the teeth. All sealants do not require this step. The teeth are then rinsed and dried and the sealant is then painted onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. The dentist or dental hygienist may shine a light on the tooth to help harden the sealant. It takes about a minute for the sealant to form a protective shield.
How Long Do Sealants Last?
Sealants can last for as long as 5 to 10 years. Sealants should be checked at your regular dental appointment and can be reapplied if they are no longer in place.
Decay can get under a sealant that is starting to wear out, and with the help of X-rays, your dentist will be able to diagnose and find such decay. Usually, either a new sealant or a small filling can then be applied before the problem progresses.