Sealants are a thin, plastic coating painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth -- usually the back teeth (the premolars, and molars) -- to prevent tooth decay. The painted on liquid sealant quickly bonds into the depressions and grooves of the teeth forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth.
Although thorough brushing and flossing can remove food particles and plaque from smooth surfaces of teeth, they cannot always get into all the nooks and crannies of the back teeth to remove the food and plaque. Sealants protect these vulnerable areas from tooth decay by "sealing out" plaque and food.
Dental sealants are usually applied in a dentist's office. The dentist, dental hygienist or assistant first cleans and dries the tooth to be treated, then applies a slightly acidic solution on the tooth to create a rough surface that helps the sealant bond, and finally paints a thin layer of liquid plastic material on the pits and fissures of the tooth. After application of the plastic liquid, blue spectrum natural light is shone on the applied material for a few seconds to cure the plastic. Alternatively, some brands of sealants self-cure via a chemical process.
After curing, the plastic becomes a hard, thin layer covering the treated portions of the tooth. Despite the heavy pressures effected on teeth during chewing each day, dental sealants may remain effective for five years or longer, although sealants do wear naturally and may become damaged over time. Bacteria and food particles may eventually become entrapped under the dental sealants, and can thus cause decay in the very teeth intended to be protected.
Applying the sealant is a simple and painless process. It takes only a few minutes for your dentist or hygienist to apply the sealant to seal each tooth. The application steps are as follows:
First the teeth that are to be sealed are thoroughly cleaned.
Each tooth is then dried and cotton or another absorbent material is put around the tooth to keep it dry.
An acid solution is put on the chewing surfaces of the teeth to roughen them up, which helps the sealant bond to the teeth.
The teeth are then rinsed and dried.
Sealant is then painted onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens. Sometimes special dental curing light is used to help the sealant harden.