What Are Sealants and Why Are They Needed?

A gray dental chair inside of a dental office.

You may have brought your child in to see the dentist and have the dentist say, “We would recommend that your child receive sealants.” You authorize the dentist to apply sealants because you trust his expertise. However, you may have no idea what they are or why they are necessary. So what are sealants and why are they needed?

What are sealants?

Applying sealants is a cost-effective and preventative measure to developing cavities on the chewing surface of your teeth. They are commonly applied to the occlusal (chewing surface) of the molars and can be applied to both cavity-free baby and adult teeth. It is a quick procedure that can be performed by a dental hygienist or dental assistant in which three liquid chemicals are essentially “painted” onto the occlusal using a small dental brush. The first two chemicals are clear, risk-free, and prepare the tooth surface to hold the third chemical. After the first two chemicals are applied, the hygienist will use a device that casts off a blue light onto the tooth. Be careful not to look directly at the light, for it can be very damaging to your eyes! The light essentially dries the chemical and bonds it to the teeth so that the sealant will not fall off. With the first two chemicals bonded to the teeth, the hygienist will apply the third chemical which is a milky-white color, to the occlusal and then apply the blue light again. Once the sealants are dry, avoid eating crunchy food like chips and candy for the next few hours.

Why are sealants needed?

This is a commonly asked question regarding sealants. As mentioned above, sealants are a preventative measure to cavities forming on the occlusal of the teeth. Sealants essentially serve as a coating or blanket that blocks food deposits from sticking to the tooth and forming a cavity. For example, when eating a sugary candy like taffy, the taffy can stick to the chewing surface of your molars, and if not removed, the sugar and bacteria will eat away at the enamel of your tooth and break it down to form a cavity. But when a sealant is present, the bacteria does not have a direct contact to your enamel, therefore, a cavity is not likely to form.

This preventative care will essentially save you hundreds of dollars in dental fees if done correctly and at the right time. Additionally, most dental insurance plans cover sealants, so it’s an easy and cost-efficient way to prevent cavities in yourself and your children.