What Causes Decay?

Decay is caused by dental plaque, a thin, sticky colorless deposit of bacteria that constantly forms on everyone’s teeth. When food is eaten (not just sugar), the bacteria in plaque produce acids that attack the tooth enamel. After repeated acid attacks, the enamel breaks down, and a cavity (hole) is formed.

dental sealant

before and after

What Is A Sealant?

A sealant is a plastic material that is applied to the grooves of teeth, where decay occurs most often. This sealant acts as a barrier, protecting the decay prone areas of the teeth from plaque germs. Sealants are a safe, painless, and low-cost way to help protect your teeth from decay. Sealants have been used for than 30 years.

How Are Sealants Beneficial?

Many teeth have tiny grooves that form as they develops. These are pits and fissures. This is where most decay occurs. That’s because the bristles of a toothbrush can’t get down into the grooves to remove the food and bacteria that get trapped there. By forming a thin covering over the pits and fissures, sealants keep out plaque and food, and thus decrease the risk of decay.

How Are Sealants Applied?

  • The tooth is cleaned.
  • The tooth is dried, and cotton or other material is put around the tooth so it stays dry.
  • A solution is put on the tooth surface that makes the tooth a little rough. (It is easier for the sealant to stick to a slightly rough tooth).
  • The tooth is rinsed and dried. Then new cotton is put around the tooth so it stays dry.
  • The sealant is applied in liquid form and is hardened by light in a seconds.

Who Should Have Sealants Applied And When?

Although children receive significant benefits from sealants, adults can also be at risk for pit and fissure decay and thus be candidates for sealants.

Children benefit from getting sealants on their permanent back teeth as soon as the teeth completely erupt – before decay attacks the teeth. Teenagers and adults without decay or fillings in the grooves of their teeth also may benefit from sealants.

  • The first permanent molars — called “6 year molars”– come in between the ages of 5 and 7.
  • The second permanent molars –“12 year molars”– come in when a child is between 11 and 14 years old.
  • The other teeth with pits and grooves — called “premolars” or “bicuspids”– right in front of the molars, also benefit from sealants.

Which Teeth Should Be Sealed? 

Only decay free teeth are sealed (see more about laser cavity detection, click here).  Usually the molars and premolars are sealed; however, any tooth (sometimes behind an upper front tooth) with a substantial groove that is not cleansable can benefit from a sealant. Fluoride helps protect the smooth surfaces, but only sealants can keep food and bacteria from getting into the grooves of the teeth.

What About Baby Teeth?

The baby molars often don’t need to be sealed. However, it may be beneficial to seal the baby molars if there is a high risk of decay (sometimes too if there is not a permanent tooth to replace the baby tooth). Since baby teeth are “space holders”, losing baby molars from decay can cause crowding when the permanent teeth come in.

How Long Does Sealing Take?

Generally, all the back teeth can be sealed in one 30 to 60-minute office visit.

Will Insurance Cover Sealants?

Many dental insurance plans cover all or part of the cost of sealants for children. Check with your insurance company for details, because there are often age limits, even limits on which teeth may be covered.

How Long Do Sealants Last?

Sealants can last for many years, as much as 20 or more. If they chip or come off, they can easily be replaced. Any problems can be detected at your regular dental checkups. As long as the sealants are in place (and done carefully), it is very difficult for decay to develop in the grooves. You can help the sealants last by not chewing on ice cubes or hard or sticky candy.

Are Sealants Safe?


The ADA is a professional association of dentists committed to the public’s oral health. As such, the ADA supports ongoing research on the safety of existing dental materials and in the development of new materials. Based on current research the Association agrees with the authoritative government agencies that the low-level of BPA exposure that may result from dental sealants and composites poses no known health threat.

Reports from a 1996 study questioned the safety of sealants, and resurfaced again in 2001 in a commentary by MSNBC. The 1996 study from the University of Granada in Spain questioned whether a raw ingredient used in the manufacture of sealants is leached out with subsequent detrimental estrogenic effects. Further studies by the American Dental Association, researchers at the University of Nebraska Dental School, and Boston University School of Dental Medicine showed that if BPA is leached from sealants it is not detectable in blood tests and therefore does not represent an estrogenic hazard. I feel very confident in both the safety and value of sealants for both adults and children.