Protecting Your Teeth With Sealants What is a dental sealant? A dental sealant is a thin plastic coating that is applied to the grooves of the chewing surfaces of the back teeth to protect them from decay. Sealants can be clear, white, or slightly tinted, and usually cannot be seen except up close. Why are sealants important? Sealants keep food particles and bacteria out of the grooves on a tooth’s chewing surfaces. Sealing a tooth is better than having to fill a cavity after decay appears. Decay damages teeth permanently. Sealants prevent cavities. Brushing helps but it doesn’t always remove the food and bacteria that get trapped on the back teeth. Where does the sealant get applied? Molar teeth are the most likely to benefit from sealants. Children usually get their first molars at about 6 years old and their second molars at about age 12. Sealants should be applied soon after the teeth have appeared, before they have a chance to decay. How is a sealant applied? Applying sealants is quick and easy and does not require drilling. First, the tooth is cleaned. Then it’s prepared using a process called etching to ensure that the sealant will bond to it. After the tooth dries, the liquid sealant is painted on the tooth. The dentist or hygienist will then shine a special light on the tooth to harden the sealant. How long do sealants last? A sealant can last for as long as 5 to 10 years. Sealants should be checked at each dental appointment and can be reapplied if necessary. Who needs sealants? Most tooth decay in children and teens occurs on the surfaces of their molar teeth. These cavities can be prevented if children get sealants soon after the appearance of their first and second molars. If teens or adults have had a cavity or have molars with deep grooves, they may be at a higher risk for future decay and should ask their dentists about sealants. To combat plaque formation, a sealant can be applied to the back molars. The plastic sealant material forms a bond over the tooth, almost like a smooth coating, filling all of the grooves. Because the grooves have now been filled in with this smooth sealant material, it is now difficult for plaque to accumulate and form cavities. When properly applied, dental sealants have proved to be highly effective in preventing pit and fissure cavities.