Normal pits and grooves on the chewing surfaces of back teeth (molars) can trap food that cannot be removed by brushing or be washed out by water or saliva. A sealant is a tough, plastic material designed to bond to tooth enamel. These tooth-colored sealants are painted onto the tooth surface to “seal” the pits and grooves and protect against decay. They are generally applied to children’s first and second permanent molars. They can also be useful for adults in certain situations. Most children do not lose their baby molars until they are 12 years old. Sealants on baby molars are recommended if the child is at high risk for decay (e.g., history of previous cavities, sugary diet, exceptionally deep or stained grooves).
Sealants are an excellent way to protect chewing surfaces of teeth from decay. They are a much better financial investment than treating decay after it has started.
Sealants are not permanent. They generally last about 5 years with normal wear, but can wear or chip away earlier in certain instances if the child grinds his teeth or chews ice. Also, sealants do not prevent decay between teeth or the onset of gum disease, so regular home care and dental visits are important.
There are no appropriate alternatives to sealants. If a tooth has decay, it will need a filling or other restoration.