Sealants, What are They and Why are They Important?

Dental sealants have become the standard of care in cavity prevention, especially when it comes to permanent molars. Because of this some patients and families have questions concerning the entire process. Let’s talk about those concerns and questions such as, exactly what they are, how they work, and what to expect at your child’s sealant appointment.

What are sealants and why are they important?

By their nature, the anatomy of the permanent molars includes very deep pits and fissures. These grooves can be so deep and narrow that even a single toothbrush bristle cannot reach all the way in to clean it out. Dental sealants are made up of a thin white coating that protects these many tiny deep grooves. The material used begins as a liquid that is painted into the grooves and is then cured, hardened, with a special light, taking only 20 seconds. According to the CDC, school-age children (ages 6–11) without sealants have almost 3 times as many cavities in the first molars as children who do have sealants. Because of this, they have become the standard of care in pediatric dentistry, as they are easy to place and extremely effective.

When will my child be ready for sealants?

As your child approaches the age of 6, you may start to be on the lookout for their first set of permanent molars (often called the “6-year molars”). These teeth grow in on the gums behind the very last baby tooth; so keep in mind, nothing falls out for these to grow in. Your child will get four 6-year molars (one in each quadrant). The first set of sealants are placed once the molars have fully erupted. This means we must wait until the tooth has fully grown in because the entire chewing surface must be accessible, and also because we must keep the tooth dry for the duration of the procedure. The second set of sealants will be placed on the four 12-year molars.

What do sealants look like?

Once they are placed, it may be difficult to see the sealants on the teeth because they are a white color. However, with proper lighting, you should be able to see them. You will see a white coating that has flowed into all the grooves of the tooth. As a result of this process, your child may describe their bite as feeling “high and bumpy” for the rest of the day, but any high spots on the sealants will wear down into their natural bite over the next couple of days.

How long do sealants last?

Like anything else in dentistry, nothing can be considered truly “permanent.” The longevity of the sealants depends largely upon oral hygiene habits and diet. The sealants are meant to last several years or through the period of highest cavity risk. This period is when children are young, their brushing techniques and dexterity may not be as effective, and as a ge

neral rule, newly erupted enamel is at the highest risk for cavities. As part of every cleaning appointment, we will check your child’s sealants. If they need touching up, we can often take care of this right away during the appointment.

What is the procedure like?

Although the sealant appointment is scheduled for 40 minutes, you can typically expect the procedure to take about 20-25 minutes (although different factors may affect this time).

For young children, we will often begin with a show-and-tell of each item used throughout the procedure to ease any worries they may have. The procedure is very easy and painless, but we know that little minds may worry when visiting the dentist for something new!

  • The first step is to brush the four molars with gritty and tasteless toothpaste.
  • We will then place what we call a “raincoat” (rubber dam) to keep the tooth dry. The raincoat will also protect your child from getting too much water in their mouth or tasting the materials we use.
  • Next, we will apply a “blue shampoo” to prepare the tooth for the sealant, rinse the tooth thoroughly, and then apply the sealant material.
  • Lastly, we will use a blue light to cure the sealant.

See the procedure in action here:

Are there any after-care instructions?

The sealant material is dried or hardened immediately following application. By the time your child is dismissed, he or she can eat and drink right away as normal. The teeth may feel high and bumpy for a couple of days but will adjust. As always, the teeth should be brushed and flossed normally. Sealants may resist wear for many years under normal circumstances. However, we do ask that children not chew on very hard foods such as ice, hard candies, or other brittle foods to help protect the longevity of the sealants.