Sealants: Does My Child Need Them?

Sealants: Does My Child Need Them?


Did you know that most tooth decay in children and teens occurs in the grooves on the grinding or chewing surfaces of back teeth? Sealants keep bacteria and food particles out of these grooves and protect the teeth. Here’s what the ADA has to say about Sealants: (


A sealant is a coating that protects a tooth from decay. When teeth are treated with sealants, they are less likely to get cavities. Sealants can be applied quickly and painlessly. These are the reasons why so many dentists recommend sealants for patients.

What causes tooth decay?

Teeth are covered with a sticky film of bacteria called plaque (rhymes with “back”). The bacteria change sugar into harmful acids that attack the hard layer on teeth called enamel (ee-NAM-el). Repeated attacks may break down the enamel and cause cavities.

Tooth decay often occurs on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. These surfaces have pits and grooves that trap plaque and bits of food. The pits and grooves are hard to keep clean, because toothbrush bristles cannot reach into them. That is how decay starts in the grooves and a cavity forms.

How do sealants work?

Even a toothbrush bristle is too big to reach inside
a groove in the tooth.

The sealant is a plastic material (resin) applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. The resin flows into the pits and grooves in the teeth. Once the pits and grooves are covered, food and plaque cannot get in. The sealant forms a barrier against acid attacks.

How are sealants applied?

It takes only a few minutes to seal each tooth. The teeth are cleaned and chewing surfaces are prepared to help the sealant stick to the tooth. The sealant is “painted” onto the chewing surface, where it bonds to the tooth. A special light may be used to help the sealant harden.

Tooth surface before a sealant is applied

Tooth surface protected by a sealant


How long do sealants last?

Sealants may last several years before they need to be replaced. Over time, sealants can become loose or worn. Then they may not protect the tooth as well. The dentist looks at the sealants during a checkup to make sure they are still intact.

How else can I protect teeth from decay?

Sealants protect the chewing surfaces of teeth, but not all surfaces. Good care of the teeth at home along with regular exams and cleanings at your dentist’s office are important. These good habits stop decay from forming in between the teeth – spots that sealants cannot cover. To prevent cavities, be sure to floss or use another between-the-teeth cleaner once a day and brush twice a day. Look for products that display the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which tells you that the product meets ADA standards for safety and effectiveness.

Who should get sealants?

Though sealants are most often placed in children and teenagers, adults can benefit from sealants too. Prevention is always better than treatment. Sealants are very useful in stopping tooth decay on the back teeth and can save patients money in the long run. Your dentist can make sealants part of your plan for a healthy mouth.

Sealant photos courtesy of Dr. Adam A. Francois.

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