Pit & Fissure Sealants

Chances are you're looking at this article because you're interested in preventing decay in your child's teeth. While sealants are by no means a cure-all in preventing all forms of tooth decay, they are helpful to patients - particularly children - in controlling decay in certain areas of the mouth.

Did You Know?
What are sealants?

Sealants area clear, acrylic-like material that helps shield out decay-causing bacteria from the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. It is recommended that sealants be applied to a child's primary (baby) molars by the age of three or four years. Once the six-year molars (the first permanent back teeth) appear, it is best to apply sealants as soon as possible. As a child's most cavity-prone years continue until the mid-teens, the premolars should also be sealed as they appear.

How can sealants prevent decay?

Sealant material bonds to the chewing surface of the back teeth, forming a protective barrier covering the pits and fissures (depressions and grooves) of the chewing surfaces. Sealants are an intermediate preventative step in delaying or preventing tooth decay on these areas of back teeth.

Fissure area, where cavities often start.

Are sealants suitable for all teeth?

Not really. You see, we apply this material only to the chewing surfaces of back teeth. Sealants aren't meant for areas between back teeth and front teeth. Also, teeth that already have fillings or detectable decay are not sealed. Adults may also have sealants placed on the chewing surfaces of non-restored back teeth.

How are sealants applied?

We apply sealant material to a clean tooth. First, a mild acid solution is gently applied to the chewing surface. This prepares the tooth enamel to bond more effectively to the sealant material. Next, the tooth is thoroughly washed and dried. Finally, the sealant material is applied to the tooth. It only takes a few minutes for the sealant to harden. Then we check the bite. That's all there is to it.

Tooth protected with sealant. Color indicates sealant material.

How long do sealants last?

Depending on your chewing pattern, the sealant effect can last for a number of years. At recall appointments we always check to make sure the sealant material is intact.

Now that your teeth have been sealed...

Sealant material is quite durable, but it is a good idea to occasionally check to make sure it is still in place. (Chewing on ice cubes, hard candy, or sticky foods should be avoided.) Here are some great snack alternatives that combined with sealants and fluoride, reduce your chances of tooth decay:

  • Peanut butter
  • Popcorn
  • Fresh vegetables (carrot sticks, celery stalks)
  • Fruit (unpeeled apples, orange sections, bananas, grapes, raisins)
  • Fruit yogurt
  • Dry (unsweetened) cereal and sugar-free granola
  • Cheese
  • Sugar-free popsicles
Sealants don't take the place of fluoride.

Are sealants and fluoride the same thing? No. Both materials are designed to preserve and prolong the life of your teeth through prevention of dental decay. They act quite differently, however. Sealants are applied topically only to certain areas of individual teeth, and are a visible sign that the tooth is being protected.

Fluoride, however, may be used effectively from prenatal stages through the adolescent period (that's when kids are at their highest cavity-prone age). Unlike sealants, fluorideis supplied in a variety of forms, including:

  • topical application to your teeth during a routine dental exam and cleaning (in a gel or solution)
  • drinking water where fluoride has been added
  • prescribed nutritional supplements (useful in areas where drinking water does not contain fluoride)
  • commercially prepared mouth rinses used at home
  • numerous toothpastes
How is fluoride different?

Fluoride may be used to prevent or reduce dental decay of all teeth, and is equally effective on primary, as well as permanent teeth. It is absorbed most effectively in the bones and teeth during the development stages. Once absorbed and retained in tooth enamel, even though it is invisible, fluoride is permanent. If both fluoride and sealant treatments are indicated for your teeth, these two procedures are usually done at separate appointments.

5-step approach

Preventative dentistry is a five-step approach. Maximum decay protection and care include:

  • Brushing and flossing
  • Fluoride
  • Sealants
  • Balanced Diet
  • Regular checkups
A Final Note

If you have any further questions about sealants, please ask us. Sealants are a proven technique that may be suitable for preventing decay. Our goal is to help preserve your smile throughout a lifetime, and sealants help make that possible.