How to Raise Cavity-Free Kids, Part 8: Dental Sealants

What Are Dental Sealants?

If you are a parent or a caregiver, your dentist or pediatric dentist may have advised you that applying dental sealants to your child’s back teeth will prevent cavities. What are these sealants, and why and how they are applied?

A sealant is a clear or tinted plastic protective coating that is painted onto the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (molars and premolars), which is the area where most cavities form.

Molars have many grooves and crevices (called “pits” and “fissures”), in which food can get stuck. Some crevices are so deep that even the bristles of a toothbrush can’t reach them. These pits and fissures provide the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, and that’s how cavities are created. Sealants, by covering the grooves and crevices, prevent this from happening. We recommend that sealants be applied to each permanent molar as soon as it erupts.

If a child is at high risk for cavities, the dentist may also decide to seal a child’s premolars (the teeth directly in front of the molars), or even the primary (baby) teeth.

How are sealants applied?

Applying sealants is a quick, painless procedure that can be done during a routine dental visit. The dentist cleans the area to remove any food or debris in and around the teeth, and then makes sure the teeth are completely dry, to insure that the sealant will stick. The sealant, applied in liquid form, flows over and into the pits and fissures, usually hardening in less than a minute. A special light is sometimes used to speed up the process.

Sealants usually last for many years, but, since they can eventually wear off, the dentist should continue to check the condition of the sealants during a child’s routine checkup visits, in case the sealant needs to be reapplied.

Remember, sealants are a big help, but they can’t keep your child’s teeth cavity-free without good home oral care and flossingl. Since the sealants can be applied only to chewing surfaces, it is still possible for children who have had sealants applied to get cavities between their teeth, if they neglect to floss. 

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