A sealant is a clear shaded plastic material that is applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth where decay occurs most often. This sealant acts as a barrier, protecting the decay-prone areas of the teeth from plaque and acid attack.
When the teeth are developing, depressions and grooves form in the chewing surfaces of the enamel. These features are called pits and fissures. They are tough to clean, because the bristles of a toothbrush may not reach into them. Therefore, pits and fissures are snug places for plague and bits of food to hide. By forming a thin covering over the pits and fissures, sealants keep out plaque and food and thus decrease the risk of decay.
Although children receive significant benefits from sealeants, adults can also be at risk for pit and fissure decay and thus be candidates for sealents. Sealents are also recommended for those who receive topical applications of fluoride and who live in communities with fluoridated water. Fluoride helps fight decay on the smooth surfaces of the teeth, but it is less effective in pits and fissures.
Each tooth takes only a few minutes to seal. First the teeth that will be sealed are cleaned. The chewing surfaces are then etched (roughened) with a weak acidic solution to help the sealant adheres to the teeth. Finally, the sealant is brushed on the tooth enamel and allowed to set. Some sealant need a special curing light to help them harden, others do not.
When the sealent is applied, finger like strands penetrate the pits and fissures of the tooth enamel. Although the sealant cannot be seen with the naked eye, the protective effect of these strands continues. As a result, it may be several years before another application of sealant is needed. Reapplication of the sealant will continue the protection against decay and may save the time and expense of having a tooth restored. Sealant will be checked during regular dental visits to determine if reapplication is necessary.