Learning About Dental Sealants

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Cross section of tooth showing its parts: crown, enamel, dentin, root, pulp, and nerve and blood vessels, and the gums and bone around it

What is a dental sealant?

A dental sealant is a strong liquid-plastic material that helps protect teeth from plaque. Plaque is a thin film of bacteria that sticks to teeth. The bacteria in plaque use sugars in food to make acids. These acids can damage the tooth's surface and cause tooth decay.

The sealant is put on the chewing surfaces of the back teeth (molars). These teeth are more likely to develop tooth decay because food and bacteria easily get stuck in the pits and grooves of the surface. Some pits and grooves are so small that a toothbrush can't clean them out.

Sealants bond to the tooth's enamel. Enamel is the hard surface of the tooth. It covers the dentin, which protects and surrounds the tooth pulp. The pulp is the core of the tooth, the place where nerves and blood vessels are.

A dental sealant does not take the place of good dental care and use of fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash. It's still important to brush and floss daily.

Sealants can be used in children, starting at about age 6, and in teens and adults.

How is it applied?

To apply a sealant, the dentist will place a cotton roll around the teeth to soak up saliva and keep the teeth dry. A sheet of rubber called a rubber dam may be used to isolate the teeth from the rest of the mouth. After cleaning the teeth, the dentist applies the liquid that will glue the sealant to the teeth. After about a minute, the dentist will rinse off the excess glue, dry the teeth, and put on the sealant. One type of sealant hardens quickly with the use of a bright light. Others harden more slowly.

Sealants can also be applied by a dental assistant or dental hygienist.

How long does a dental sealant last?

Dental sealants may wear down over time, but they can protect teeth from decay for years. Your dentist can check them and reapply them if needed.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your dentist if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.