Tooth decay can make life miserable for children and adults, yet it often goes untreated. This not only causes considerable discomfort, but it can also cause significant harm to the body’s health and natural development. The pain and difficulties stemming from dental problems can affect everyday activities like eating and speaking, while also impacting overall health and well-being. Fortunately, dental sealants offer a preventive solution to combat tooth decay.

What are dental sealants?

Dental sealants are thin, protective coatings made from a strong plastic resin material. They’re typically applied to the chewing surfaces of your back teeth, particularly on the molars and premolars. These teeth have deep grooves and pits where food particles, plaque, and bacteria can easily get trapped. Regular brushing may not effectively clean these small, tight spaces, which makes them more prone to tooth decay over time.

dental sealants

Fissure sealants typically come in two main colours:

Clear: This is a common colour for sealants as it blends in well with the natural tooth colour.

White: White sealants are also widely used and offer good visibility for dentists during application and examination. They can also make it easier to see any chipping or wear on the sealant itself.

Some sealants may have a slight tint. However, your dentist will choose the most appropriate type for your needs, ensuring the colour remains unnoticed in your everyday life.

How do dental sealants work?

Dental sealants act as a shield, literally sealing out the culprits that cause cavities. Here’s a breakdown of their cavity-fighting action:

Sealing the grooves: The sealant material fills and bonds to the grooves and pits of your teeth. These grooves and pits are naturally occurring depressions on the chewing surfaces of your back teeth. Because of their shape, food particles and bacteria can easily get trapped there, making them prime targets for cavities. Sealants effectively “seal” these vulnerable areas, preventing food and bacteria from getting lodged within.

Blocking plaque and acid formation: Plaque, a sticky film harbouring bacteria, forms on teeth when food particles are not removed. Bacteria in plaque thrive on sugars and starches left behind in the grooves. As they feed, they produce acids as waste products. These acids are like tiny drill bits that slowly erode tooth enamel, leading to cavities. By keeping food and bacteria out, sealants prevent plaque formation and subsequent acid production, safeguarding your enamel from this erosion.

Early intervention: In some cases, sealants can even act as a shield against the very early stages of cavities. If a tiny cavity hasn’t yet breached the enamel surface, sealants can prevent further decay by stopping the flow of bacteria and acids. This allows the weakened enamel to naturally remineralise with fluoride from toothpaste or other sources, essentially reversing the early damage.

Simplifying cleaning: With a smooth, sealed surface, plaque and food particles no longer have those deep crevices to hide in. This makes them much easier to remove through regular brushing and flossing, further enhancing your oral hygiene routine.

Dental sealant application process

Getting dental sealants is a painless and quick procedure that can be completed in one visit. Here’s a breakdown of the simple steps involved:

1. Cleaning the tooth: Just like painting a wall, you need a clean surface for a good seal. Your dentist will meticulously clean the tooth surface with a brush and fluoride paste. This removes any plaque or debris that might hinder the sealant from bonding properly to your tooth.

2. Keeping it dry: Water can act like a barrier and prevent the sealant from adhering effectively. Your dentist will use a dental suction tool and cotton gauze to isolate and dry the tooth surface. This ensures a strong and long-lasting bond between the sealant and your enamel.

3. Painting on protection: Once the tooth is clean and dry, your dentist will carefully paint a thin layer of the liquid sealant material onto the grooves and pits of your tooth. This fills in those hard-to-reach areas, creating a smooth and protective barrier.

4. Curing the sealant: A dental curing light will be used to harden the sealant material. Within seconds, the sealant will be solidified, forming a protective shield over your tooth.

The entire procedure usually takes just a few minutes per tooth.

Benefits beyond cavity prevention

Dental sealants offer several advantages:

Cost-effectiveness: Think of sealants as an investment in your smile. They are a preventive measure that can significantly reduce the need for future fillings and other cavity treatments. Cavities can be expensive to fix, and by preventing them, sealants can save you a significant amount of money in the long run.

Long-lasting protection: While not permanent, dental sealants are like long-lasting shields for your teeth. With proper care, they can effectively protect your teeth for many years. This translates to fewer dental visits for cavity treatment and allows you to enjoy peace of mind about your oral health.

Painless and quick procedure: Getting dental sealants applied is a breeze. The process is comfortable and requires no anaesthesia. It’s usually completed in one visit and involves minimal discomfort, making it a stress-free experience.

woman getting dental sealant

Who can benefit from sealants?

Dental sealants are particularly recommended for:

Children: This is a primary target group for sealants. Children’s teeth are more susceptible to cavities for a few reasons:

  • Thinner enamel: Compared to adults, children have thinner enamel, the hard outer layer of the tooth that shields it from decay. Sealants act like a protective helmet, reinforcing the enamel and making teeth more resistant to acid erosion.
  • Developing brushing skills: Young children are still developing their brushing dexterity. Sealants provide an extra layer of defence during this time when thorough cleaning might be challenging.

Adults with deep grooves: Even with excellent oral hygiene practices, some adults have naturally deeper grooves or pits in their back teeth. These crevices are difficult to clean effectively, and food particles and bacteria can easily get trapped. Sealants fill in these grooves, creating a smoother surface that’s easier to keep clean and reduces the risk of decay in these areas.

People at high cavity risk: Certain factors can increase an individual’s risk of developing cavities. These include:

  • History of frequent cavities: If you’ve had cavities in the past, you’re more likely to get them again. Sealants offer an additional layer of protection to help prevent future cavities.
  • Difficulty maintaining oral hygiene: For some people, maintaining proper brushing and flossing routines can be challenging due to health conditions, dexterity limitations, or other factors. Sealants can provide much-needed support in these cases by reducing the risk of decay, even if brushing isn’t perfect.

Keeping your smile sealed

While sealants offer excellent protection, they don’t eliminate the need for good oral hygiene practices. Here’s how to ensure your sealed teeth stay healthy and maximise the benefits of your sealants:

Regular brushing and flossing: Even though sealants protect the grooved surfaces of your teeth, they don’t cover everything. Bacteria can still build up on the unsealed areas, like the sides of your teeth and between them. Keep up with your oral hygiene routine by brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily. This helps remove plaque and bacteria from these exposed areas, complementing the protection provided by the sealants.

Avoid chewing hard and sticky foods: While sealants are tough, they’re not invincible. Chewing on hard candies, chewy sweets, nuts, or ice can damage the sealant by chipping or cracking it. This can compromise the seal and expose the underlying tooth surface to cavity-causing bacteria. Opt for softer snacks and avoid using your teeth as tools (like cracking nutshells) to prevent accidental damage to your sealants.

Dental check-ups: Schedule regular dental checkups for professional cleanings and to monitor the condition of your sealants. Your dentist can assess their effectiveness and recommend replacement if they show signs of wear or damage.

girl child dental sealants

Make dental sealants part of your next 6-month dental visit!

Studies show dental sealants can be highly effective. They can prevent up to 80% of cavities for the first 2 years and remain 50% effective for up to 4 years after application. Even beyond 4 years, sealants can offer some level of defence, although reapplication might be recommended by your dentist during your regular check-ups.

Dental sealants are a valuable extra defence in your approach to oral care. Creating a barrier against cavity-causing factors helps you maintain a healthy, beautiful smile for many years. Have a chat with to your dentist about whether sealants are right for you or your children, and take a proactive step towards preventing cavities!