Fissure sealants are a thin plastic coating applied to the fissures and pits of permanent molars to prevent cavities from forming where toothbrushes often cannot reach. The coating effectively seals the chewing surfaces of the molars and keeps food particles and germs out. Children’s molars are typically sealed as soon as they erupt to prevent tooth decay from setting in. Applying sealants is a quick and simple process that is usually painless.
The surface of molars is not flat but is instead rough like hills and valleys. Plaque, food particles, and germs can build up in these fissures where toothbrushes and dental floss aren’t effective. As a result, tooth decay and cavities are common in molars, especially in younger children and teenagers.
Fissure sealants are typically applied as soon as the permanent molars have grown into a child’s mouth. Applying the sealant early helps protect the teeth before decay has a chance to set in. A child will grow his or her first molars around the age of six and the second molars by the age of 12.
The process of applying fissure sealants is typically harmless and fast. A dentist will clean the molars to be sealed and then apply a gel. This gel is an acidic solution that etches the surface of the molars, making it easier for the sealant to adhere.
After a few minutes, the dentist will rinse the gel away and paint the molars with sealant. The sealant is hardened in less than a minute by a light the dentist shines into the patient’s mouth. The dentist will keep the molars very dry while he or she applies the sealant.
Most fissure sealants are white or clear, but some may be lightly tinted. They cannot be seen unless the patient opens his or her mouth wide. A patient will not show his or her sealants when talking, eating, and smiling.
Sealants will normally last between five and ten years. A dentist will check a patient’s fissure sealants during a routine appointment and cleaning. A sealant that has been cracked or that is no longer in place can be repaired or replaced quickly.
Dental sealants are not a replacement for fluoride or daily flossing and brushing. Fluoride is found in toothpaste, mouth rinse, and some tap water and helps prevent tooth decay and cavities. Sealants are only one aspect of preventive dental care.