In the history of tooth decay prevention, two breakthroughs stand out: fluoride and sealants. Dentists learned that balanced fluoride treatments could help defend the teeth against decay, and that the application of sealants could further offer protection for the teeth.
For more than 30 years now, sealants have offered a protective plastic coating that covers the surfaces of teeth to help prevent tooth decay.
Because of their many bumps and grooves, the chewing surfaces of children’s teeth are highly susceptible to cavities. Debris and resulting bacteria may become lodged between the grooves of a child’s tooth. These grooves (called pits and fissures) may be more problematic for some children than for others.
Toddlers, children in cavity-prone years (aged four to 17) and adults all face the same pit and fissure problem. Premolars and molars have the most pits and fissures, and are difficult for people of any age to reach with a toothbrush or dental floss. However, the application of sealants on the appropriate teeth can help prevent tooth decay for susceptible populations.
The dental sealant procedure is usually performed on baby teeth soon after they erupt, and repeated at regular intervals over the years. Since the sealant is gradually lost through natural wear and tear of the teeth, the application must be repeated to remain effective.
First, your dentist will clean the teeth, dry them and apply a slightly acidic solution that is designed to help the sealant bond to the tooth surface. Then, each tooth is “painted” with a very thin layer of the sealant coating. Since the coating is clear or white, it blends easily with the natural tooth color.
Typically, your dentist will use a high-intensity curing light to harden the sealant after it has been painted on your teeth. They can last for many years, but they should be checked regularly and assessed for possible re-application.
It is important to note that sealants do not replace fluoride. Rather, they add to the benefits of fluoride, and may preserve teeth so that they do not decay or require more extensive dental procedures later on.