The chewing surfaces of the premolars and molars or the back teeth have very rough grooves called pits and fissures that help grind food. However, those very same grooves are responsible for putting the back teeth at an increased risk for tooth decay. Even with regular brushing and flossing, the pits and fissures are very difficult to clean.
Because of this, dentists may recommend protecting the back teeth with dental sealants, which seal up the chewing surfaces and prevent tooth decay. Although dentists are more likely to recommend sealants to children and teenagers, adults too can benefit from the added protection provided by dental sealants.
Dental sealants are thin plastic coatings applied by dentists over teeth to protect it from the bacteria and acids that cause cavities. They can be applied to just about any teeth. However, they’re best applied to the molars and premolars because it contains many pits and fissures that are very difficult to clean.
Applying dental sealants to the surface of the back teeth makes them smoother and lowers their risk for caries and cavity formation. This means the mouth stays cleaner and thorough brushing and flossing can remove any small particles of food and bacteria left behind.
How Do Dentists Seal Teeth?
Sealing teeth is a very simple and painless procedure that involves two simple steps, which are:
- Tooth preparation – There are actually six stages to sealing teeth, and the first three involve preparing the tooth for the sealants. The first stage involves cleaning the pits and fissures with a brush and pumice paste of any plaque and food debris. The dentist then uses a small air syringe to dry up the teeth and surround the teeth with cotton rolls to isolate them from the rest of the mouth.
After the teeth has been properly dried and isolated, the dentist then etches the surface of the tooth, rinses it off and leaves it to dry again.
- Application – Once the tooth has dried after etching, the dentist then applies the sealant itself. It’s actually a liquid material that sets into a solid, plastic film onto the tooth. The dentist uses a brush to apply the liquid onto the surface and guide it into the small pits and fissures found on the molars and premolars. Certain sealants set by themselves in a few short seconds. However, most sealants will require a self-curing light to be applied for about 30 seconds to make sure that it is properly bonded to the tooth’s surface.
Overall, the process should only take a single visit, and patients can usually chew on the tooth again as soon as they walk out of the clinic. Sealants will usually last for years before the dentist recommends reapplication.
Of course, even though dental sealants are a very affordable and effective means of protecting teeth from tooth decay and gum disease, they are not a substitute for proper oral hygiene. Brushing twice a day, flossing at least once, and visiting the dentist regularly are still the best ways to prevent oral problems, with or without sealants.