Dental sealants are one of the most significant dental materials in preventive dentistry, alongside topical fluorides. They are also called pit and fissure sealants.
Pits and fissures are similar to the grooves on the biting surfaces of the back teeth, but are deeper and inaccessible to brushes while cleaning, making them highly susceptible to dental caries (decay) formation. Dental sealants are a plastic material (resin) applied to the surfaces of these teeth to block the deep pits and fissures from trapping food. If food is not trapped within the fissures, no caries are likely to form. Sealants are a safe and effective method for preventing caries and can be applied by your local dentist.
The advantages of sealants are primarily seen in children when they are applied to the pits and fissures of back teeth immediately upon eruption of the crowns. A sealant prevents decay from forming in the first place, and are highly recommended in children with high caries activity. Sealing the teeth helps prevent the agony of going to the dentist for frequent fillings. Adults can also benefit from dental sealants if they experience a change in their diet or medical condition that renders them highly susceptible to caries, such as patients who have undergone recent radiotherapy to face and neck.
The dental sealant material is a low-viscosity fluid resin that flows easily to the depths of the narrow fissures. It is applied after cleaning the tooth thoroughly with polishing material. The tooth surface is washed, dried and etched using a mild acid (35-50% phosphoric acid) to allow the resin to stay in place. The resin is cured after application using a visible light source. It is a completely painless procedure and no shots need be taken. Sometimes your local dentist may widen the fissures with a dental bur to allow proper sealing and to remove small caries lesions.
Clinical studies have also shown that sealants can be applied over small decay with no further progression deeper into the tooth. This causes the decay to stop immediately, effectively trapping it. However, this procedure is not highly recommended at present. If used along with topical fluoride application, dental sealants have shown to reduce caries incidence up to 75%.
Dental sealants can get dislodged under heavy pressure, so frequent examination and repair (if needed) every 6 months is advised for proper protection. Dental sealants are highly recommended for those individuals who love their teeth, but can't spend enough time on their proper maintenance.