Dental Sealants are thin plastic coatings that are applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to prevent decay. The teeth most likely to benefit from sealant application are the first and second molars just after they have erupted and before they have a chance to decay. First molars generally appear at about the age of six and second molars at about the age of twelve. Most tooth decay in children and adolescents occurs on the chewing surfaces of these back teeth or molars. This is because molars have irregular surfaces with pits and grooves that tend to trap food and bacterial debris. Sealants flow into and coat these pits and grooves so that bacteria cannot multiply and cause decay.
Applying sealants is quite simple. First, the teeth are cleaned. Then the teeth to be sealed are treated with a very mild conditioning solution similar in strength to vinegar or lemon juice. This roughens the tooth surface slightly so that the sealant will bond to it properly. After the tooth is prepared, the sealant is painted onto the tooth. It flows into the pits and grooves and is then hardened. After sealing, bacteria cannot reach the pits and grooves and cause decay. Applying sealants requires no drilling or removal of tooth structure. Sealants can be clear, white, or slightly tinted. Remember, sealants are used on the back teeth and cannot be seen when the child talks or smiles.
Sealants help to maintain sound, intact teeth. However, sealants do not replace Fluoride. Fluorides such as those used in fluoridated water, fluoride toothpaste, and fluoride mouth rinses help prevent decay on the smooth surfaces of teeth. Fluorides have less effect on the rough, pitted chewing surfaces of the back teeth where food particles and decay-producing bacteria are trapped. Sealants, however, are only effective on the uneven chewing surfaces. Decay destroys the structure of the tooth. Each time a tooth is filled or a filling is replaced, additional tooth structure is lost. Fillings last an average of six to eight years before they need to be replaced. Appropriate use of sealants can save time, money and the discomfort associated with restorative dental procedures.
For maximum benefit, sealants should be used as part of a child's total preventive dental care. The cost of sealants is consistently less than having a tooth filled. Sealants should be checked regularly and reapplied when they appear to have worn off. Studies have shown sealants to be effective, easy to apply, inexpensive and nontoxic. Sealants are approved and have been recommended by the American Dental Association, the National Institute of Dental Research and the American Public Health Association. Because teeth are most susceptible to decay when the teeth are young, preventing decay during the first five to fifteen years after a tooth erupts is critical.