What are dental sealants?

Regularly brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing your teeth are important habits to help prevent cavities. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to clean every nook and cranny of your mouth effectively. The bristles on a toothbrush can’t always reach deep into the grooves of your teeth, especially those molars that facilitate the process of chewing when you are eating. This leaves leftover food particles and cavity-causing bacteria hiding in the tiny crevices of your teeth, creating the perfect conditions for tooth decay. 

Fluoride is a mineral that can strengthen enamel and prevent tooth decay from progressing. However, fluoride is not as protective on the open pits and deep fissures in your teeth. Fortunately, dental sealants provide an excellent solution to this problem. 

What are dental sealants? 1,2

A dental sealant is a thin, protective coating (made from resin-plastic or other dental materials) that fills and adheres to the chewing surface of your back teeth or molar. By properly sealing the pits and fissures of the teeth, you can prevent cavities. When compared to the use of fluoride alone, sealants are highly effective in preventing cavities on the chewing surfaces of molars.

Who can get dental sealants? 

Sealing teeth as soon as they erupt into the mouth can prevent cavities from the very beginning, saving time, discomfort, and money in the long run. Therefore, sealants are typically placed in children and teenagers because tooth decay can start as soon as teeth come in, and most decay in children occurs on the chewing surfaces of molars. 

Since there is always a risk for developing cavities at any stage in life, adults at high risk for decay (e.g., those with dry mouth, poor diet, history of tooth decay, or other factors) can benefit from sealants, too. While adults and children can both benefit from sealants, it’s better to get them at an earlier age. Sealants can be placed on baby molars or permanent molars. However, they are most cost-effective when used on permanent teeth. 

How do sealants work? 1,3

Cavity-causing bacteria collect in the grooves and fissures of your teeth and feed on the sugar and food particles caught in your tooth. They produce acids that eat the tooth structure and eventually create holes, which are more commonly called cavities. This is where dental sealants come in: Sealants act as a thin plastic barrier, keeping bacteria and food debris out of tooth crevices and preventing cavities from forming. They can also be placed to stop the earliest stages of decay rather than placing a filling.

Applying a sealant is a simple and painless process. It doesn’t require an anesthetic, and it takes just a few minutes for your dentist or hygienist to apply the sealant to each tooth. The application process for dental sealants is as follows:

  1. Your dentist or hygienist thoroughly cleans the teeth that are to be sealed.
  2. Each tooth will be dried and isolated with cotton or another absorbent material. 
  3. A mild “etching” solution will be applied to the teeth to roughen up the chewing surfaces. The rough surfaces will help the sealant bond to the teeth. 
  4. After a few seconds, the solution is washed off, and the tooth is dried once again. Then, the sealant is painted into the pits and fissures of the tooth surface. 
  5. Some sealants harden on their own in a minute or so. Others are “light-cured” and harden faster when the dentist exposes the sealant to the curing light. 

Keep in mind that there are multiple kinds of sealant materials available, and some may require a little grinding or wear after they’re placed to ensure your bite is right. 

How long do sealants last? 4

Dental sealants can protect your teeth from decay for many years. However, sealants can still get damaged or fall off. To restore the protective shield and avoid cavities, missing or damaged sealants need to be repaired or replaced. For this reason, it is imperative to get regular check-ups where your dentist can check the integrity of your sealants. If they are in questionable condition, your dentist or hygienist may reapply them as necessary. 

Are dental sealants covered by insurance? 

Many dental plans cover sealants for children under 18, but adult sealants are usually not covered. As a member of Delta Dental, you may be eligible for adult sealants under our Health through Oral Wellness® (HOW®) program. Visit www.healththroughoralwellness.com to learn more about this program. 

Final Thoughts 

According to the CDC, dental sealants protect against 80% of cavities for two years while continuing to protect against 50% of cavities for up to four years. However, it’s important to understand that dental sealants are not a substitute for brushing with fluoride toothpaste and flossing your teeth. Dental sealants, along with brushing and flossing, make up a nice one-two punch to both prevent decay from forming and prevent the early stages of decay from becoming a full-blown cavity. We recommend talking with your dentist to see if sealants are the right fit for you or your child. 

FAQs on dental sealants

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about dental sealants.

Sealants are considered preventive applications, whereas fillings are restorative. Sealants are applied to protect the teeth from decay, while fillings are required to restore a tooth after a cavity has formed from tooth decay.

Dental sealants can be removed by your dentist. However, sealants are usually only removed when there are signs of excessive wear or damage. Your dentist usually will assess your sealant to see if there is serious wear or damage. If so, he or she will remove the sealant and replace it with a new one.


1 Sealants. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/sealants

2 Dental sealants. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/dental-sealants

3 Sealants. (n.d.). Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/10912-sealants

4 School sealant PROGRAMS. (2021, January 25). Retrieved March 18, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/dental_sealant_program/index.htm

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