What are dental sealants?
Sealants are thin, plastic coatings painted on the chewing surfaces
of the back teeth.
Sealants are put on in dentists' offices, clinics, and sometimes in
schools. Getting sealants put on is simple and painless. Sealants are
painted on as a liquid and quickly harden to form a shield over the
How are sealants put on?
- The tooth is cleaned.
- The tooth is dried, and cotton is put around the tooth so it
- A solution is put on the tooth that makes the surface a little
rough. (It is easier for the sealant to stick to a slightly rough
- The tooth is rinsed and dried. Then new cotton is put around the
tooth so it stays dry.
- The sealant is applied in liquid form and hardens in a few
- The sealant is in place.
Why get sealants?
The most important reason for getting sealants is to avoid tooth
decay. Fluoride in toothpaste and in drinking water protects the
smooth surfaces of teeth but back teeth need extra protection.
Sealants cover the chewing surfaces of the back teeth and keep out
germs and food. Having sealants put on teeth before they decay will
also save time and money in the long run by avoiding fillings, crowns,
or caps used to fix decayed teeth.
What causes tooth decay?
Germs in the mouth use the sugar in food to make acids. Over time,
the acids can make a cavity in the tooth. Of course a healthy tooth is
the best tooth. So it is important to prevent decay. That's why
sealants are so important.
Why do back teeth decay so easily?
The chewing surfaces of back teeth are rough and uneven because
they have small pits and grooves. Food and germs can get stuck in the
pits and grooves and stay there a long time because toothbrush
bristles cannot brush them away.
Who should get sealants?
Children should get sealants on their permanent molars as soon as
the teeth come in -- before decay attacks the teeth. Teenagers and
young adults who are prone to decay may also need sealants.
- The first permanent molars -- called "6 year molars" -- come in
between the ages of 5 and 7.
- The second permanent molars -- "12 year molars" -- come in when
a child is between 11 and 14 years old.
- Other teeth with pits and grooves also might need to be sealed.
Should sealants be put on baby teeth?
Your dentist might think it is a good idea, especially if your
child's baby teeth have deep pits and grooves. Baby teeth save space
for permanent teeth. It is important to keep baby teeth healthy so
they don't fall out early.
How long do sealants last?
Sealants can last up to 10 years. But they need to be checked at
regular dental check-ups to make sure they are not chipped or worn
away. The dentist or dental hygienist can repair sealants by adding
more sealant material.
What if a small cavity is covered by a
The decay will not spread, because it is sealed off from its food
and germ supply.
Are sealants new?
No, sealants have been around since the 1960s. Studies by the
National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and others led
to the development of dental sealants and showed that they are safe
and effective. Many people still do not know about sealants. In fact,
fewer than 25 percent of children in the United States have sealants
on their teeth.
Besides sealants, are there other ways to prevent
Yes. Using fluoride toothpaste and drinking fluoridated water can
help protect teeth from decay. Water is fluoridated in about
two-thirds of cities and towns in the United States. If your water is
not fluoridated or if your children's teeth need more fluoride to stay
healthy, a dentist can prescribe it in the form of a gel, mouthrinse,
Fluoride is the best defense against tooth decay! It
helps the smooth surfaces of the teeth the most. It is less effective
on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Regular brushing -- with
fluoride toothpaste -- also helps prevent tooth decay. Sealants and
fluoride together can prevent almost all tooth decay.
- makes teeth more resistant to decay
- repairs tiny areas of decay before they become big cavities
- makes germs in the mouth less able to cause decay
How can I get dental sealants for my children?
Here are some things you can do to prevent periodontal diseases:
- Brush your teeth twice a day (with a fluoride toothpaste)
- Floss every day
- Visit the dentist routinely for a check-up and professional
- Eat a well balanced diet
- Don't use tobacco products
How do I know if I have periodontal disease?
Talk to your dentist, state or local dental society, or health
department. Sometimes sealants are put on at school. Check with your
school about whether it has a sealant program.
Information for this article provided by:
NIDCR (National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research)
Publication No. 03-489
Last Reviewed May 2005