What is a sealant?
A dental sealant (also called a pit and fissure sealant) is a plastic, professionally-applied material that is placed on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (molars and some premolars) to prevent cavities. Sealants can provide a physical barrier so that cavity-causing bacteria cannot invade the pits and fissures on the chewing surfaces of teeth.
When are sealants placed?
First permanent molars erupt into the mouth at about age 6. Placing sealants on these teeth shortly after they erupt protects them from developing cavities in areas of the teeth where food and bacteria collect. When sealants were applied routinely to susceptible tooth surfaces in conjunction with the appropriate use of fluoride, most tooth decay in children can be prevented.
Second permanent molars erupt into the mouth at about age 12 years. Pit and fissure surfaces of these teeth are as susceptible to dental caries as the first permanent molars of younger children. Therefore, young teens need to receive dental sealants shortly after the eruption of their second permanent molars.
Who is a candidate for sealants?
The potential to develop pit and fissure decay begins early in life, so children and teenagers are obvious candidates. But some adults at high risk of decay can benefit from sealants as well.
What else can I use to prevent tooth decay?
Fluorides, such as those used in community water, toothpaste, gels, varnishes, and mouth rinse also help to prevent decay. Fluoride works best on the smooth surfaces of teeth. The chewing surfaces on the back teeth, however, have tiny grooves where decay often begins. Sealants keep cavity-causing bacteria out of the grooves by covering them with a safe plastic coating. Sealants and fluorides work together to prevent tooth decay.