You might spend all day admiring those attractive front teeth, but the molars are where the real work gets done. The chewing surfaces of your back teeth are rough and contoured with pits and grooves to help break down your food. While brushing and flossing helps remove food and dental plaque from smooth tooth surfaces, properly cleaning these deep fissures on your molars can be much more difficult.
Luckily, dental sealants offer molars a safeguard from tooth decay. Made of plastic resin, these tooth sealants are applied to the grooves of premolars and molars to “seal out” dental cavity-causing bacteria and food.
Decay starts early in life, so dental sealants are generally placed on your teeth at a young age.
The first set of permanent molars usually erupts at the age of six. Sealing these chewing surfaces soon after will help keep them healthy and protect them from tooth decay. Much later, second molars erupt during the rapid growth spurts of teenagers. These molars are just as vulnerable as the first, and the typical teenager will subject them to excessive sugar. The sooner these chewing surfaces can be sealed, the better.
Although dental sealants are usually applied early in life, adults at high risk of developing decay can also benefit from receiving them. Consult with your dentist to determine if tooth sealants are right for you.
How Your Dentist “Seals the Deal”
Applying dental sealants is relatively simple for your dentist, and generally takes just a few minutes per tooth. A dental sealant procedure includes three steps:
- The teeth requiring dental sealants are cleaned.
- An etching solution is then applied to the chewing surfaces to help the dental sealant adhere to the tooth.
- The dental sealant is “painted” onto the tooth enamel to bond and harden.
In some cases, a curing light may be used to help the dental sealant harden. When they remain intact, dental sealants can last for years.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
How effective are sealants?
Studies have proven that properly applied sealants are 100-percent effective in protecting the tooth surfaces from cavities. As long as the sealant remains intact, small food particles and bacteria that cause cavities cannot penetrate through or around a sealant. Sealant protection is reduced or lost when part or all of the bond between the tooth and sealant is broken. However, clinical studies have shown that teeth that have lost sealants are no more susceptible to tooth decay than teeth that were never sealed.
Why can't I just brush and floss?
While brushing and flossing help to remove food particles and plaque from smooth surfaces of teeth, toothbrush bristles often can’t reach into the teeth’s depressions and grooves. Sealants protect those areas and prevent food and bacteria from getting in.
How are sealants applied?
Your dentist can apply sealants easily, and it takes only a few minutes to seal each tooth. The dentist first cleans the teeth that will be sealed, which may require the use of a dental drill to open the grooves of the teeth and determine if decay is present. Then he or she will roughen the chewing surfaces with an acid solution, which will help the sealant stick to the teeth. The dentist then “paints” the sealant on the tooth. It bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. Sometimes your dentist will use a special curing light to help the sealant harden. Sealant treatment is painless and takes anywhere from five to 45 minutes to apply, depending on how many teeth need to be sealed. Sealants must be applied properly for good retention.
How long will a sealant last?
As long as the sealant remains intact, the tooth surface will be protected from decay. Sealants hold up well under the force of normal chewing and usually last several years before a reapplication is needed. The risk of decay decreases significantly after sealant application. During your regular dental visits, your dentist will check the condition of the sealants and reapply them when necessary.
Who should receive sealant treatment?
Children, because they have newly erupted, permanent teeth, receive the greatest benefit from sealants. The chewing surfaces of a child’s teeth are most susceptible to cavities. Surveys show that the majority of all cavities occur in the narrow pits and grooves of a child’s newly erupted teeth because food particles and bacteria cannot be cleaned out. Other patients also can benefit from sealant placement, such as those who have existing pits and grooves susceptible to decay. Research has shown that almost everybody has a 95-percent chance of eventually experiencing cavities in the pits and grooves of their teeth.
Are sealants covered by insurance?
Insurance benefits for sealant procedures have increased considerably, especially as companies start to realize that sealants are a proven preventive technique. This preventive measure can help reduce future dental expenses and protect the teeth from more aggressive forms of treatment. You will want to check with your insurance to get an accurate benefit estimate for sealants.
Updated: February 2007
Source: The Academy of General Dentisry