Sealants: Armor your teeth

Have you ever sealed a wood deck against weathering? Ever varnished a painting? If so, you’re already familiar with the idea behind sealants.

Beyond brushing and flossing, dental sealants provide an extra way to protect against cavities. This preventive step armors your back teeth against tooth decay while helping you avoid the cost of fillings or crowns. Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States, according to both the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

How do sealants work?

Since nine out of 10 cavities occur in the molars, according to Centers for Disease Control, most plans with sealants cover sealants on back teeth only. Your dentist (or hygienist) applies a thin, protective coating on the chewing surface of your molars. Sealants fill in the grooves of those teeth, creating a barrier to keep leftover food and cavity-causing bacteria safely outside. 

When's the best time for sealants?

Sealants work best when applied between the ages of 5 and 14, shortly after a child’s permanent molars appear. Both children and adults can get sealants, as long as there are no prior molar fillings or tooth decay. While sealants are designed to stand up to the rigors of daily chewing, they are not permanent. Sealants should be reapplied after several years.

According to the CDC, about one in five children will have untreated tooth decay by the time they’re 19. This puts them at greater risk for missing school and lower grades. Studies show sealants can be effective in fighting this statistic:

• Sealants protect against 80% of cavities in the back teeth for two years, 50% of cavities for four years and can continue working for up to nine years.

• Children ages 6 to 11 without sealants are three times more likely to develop molar cavities.

Only 43%

of children ages 6 to 11 have sealants.

What’s the sealant procedure?

Applying sealants is quick and painless. First, the molar is cleaned and dried. Then the surface is slightly roughened to help the sealant adhere. Lastly, the sealant is painted on the enamel, where it bonds and hardens. The whole procedure only takes a few minutes per tooth. 

Should I get sealants?

Talk with your dentist about when you or your children should get sealants. Many dental plans cover sealants for children under 18, though adult sealants are not usually covered. Check if your plan covers sealants and reapplications.