All teeth in the back of the mouth have grooves in them. Many of the grooves are defects where the tooth did not develop properly. They may have openings into the inside of the tooth. They collect food debris and are the starting point of dental decay.
If the grooves are detected at the right time, which is soon after they have erupted and no decay has set in, the grooves can be sealed with a plastic resin or a sealant which can prevent decay from starting.
Various sealant materials are available to close the defects in the tooth before decay starts. Teeth sealants are either natural tooth colored or slightly off color for easy observation of their retention on the tooth.
Sealants are most indicated for the permanent first and second molars. First molars erupt around age six and second molars usually around age twelve. It is best to seal them within six months of their eruption. Premolars, the teeth in front of the molars; are not as prone to formation of grooves as the molars and may not need sealant protection on a routine basis. Occasionally, sealants can be considered for baby or deciduous teeth. It is not always easy to detect the onset on decay even with electronic gauging devices and therefore best to seal the permanent molar teeth as soon as they erupt as a preventative measure. Sealant placement cannot be successfully placed after the onset of decay in the tooth. Placement of teeth sealants is relatively simple and does not need the use of any anesthetic. Various isolation techniques are used to keep the tooth dry- a mild acid will cleanse the tooth and create microscopic pores to mechanically lock and retain the sealant material. Plastic is applied and hardened and the sealant is completed. Teeth sealants need to be observed at re-care visits to ensure that the edges or thin area of the sealants are not worn out and if needed, they need to be repaired or replaced.
It is estimated that more than 50 % of the back molar teeth will have decay if not protected with sealants. Restoring teeth with fillings is usually more expensive and invasive than the simple placement of a sealant for teeth. Waiting to place a sealant for teeth that are fully erupted in the mouth has risks of starting decay that can be easily avoided.
Sealants for teeth are a simple, well-documented measure of protecting teeth from decay. Teeth sealants preserve tooth structure and reduce the cost of oral health care.