How do dental sealants help prevent tooth decay?

Sealants are a thin layer of plastic filling material that protect hard to brush areas. The biting surfaces of molars have deep pits and grooves. Often, tooth brush bristles do not adequately clean these surfaces. Sealants are placed in these grooves to protect the hard-to-reach area from bacteria that cause cavities. Most kids have high sugar diets and not the best oral hygiene. Sealants are great options for kids when the molars erupt around six years old to help protect the permanent teeth.   
Aaron B. Schwartz, DDS
Pediatric Dentistry
Sealants "seal off" the deep groves and crevices on the chewing portions of teeth.

These deep grooves and crevices may normally trap food and bacteria if not sealed. This leads to tooth decay. 
  • Sealants DO NOT prevent decay in between teeth.
  • Sealants are a GOLD STANDARD in preventive oral health.

Dental sealants seal the grooves in the biting surfaces of the teeth. By sealing these grooves, the bacteria in the dental plaque cannot get to the tooth. By preventing the decay causing bacteria from getting to the tooth, the tooth is protected where it is sealed from decay. Your dentist can advise you about dental sealants. Most often they are applied to children's teeth during the cavity prone years.

The most commonly decayed tooth surface in the adult dentition is the permanent 1st molar, and the most common surface to be affected is the occlusal or biting surface of the tooth. These teeth are at greater risk of decay because the teeth have grooves that easily harbor plaque, food and the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Even brushing ones teeth thoroughly cannot completely void the grooves of the agents that cause tooth decay.  

A dental sealant is a plastic material that is in liquid form prior to it being hardened. The sealant material is able to flow into and fill in the grooves of the biting surface of the tooth. Once a dental sealant is placed it greatly reduces the risk of developing decay because it eliminates the space for food and bacteria to collect.

Dental sealants create a barrier through which the bacteria and the biofilm (saliva) cannot penetrate. The sealants are used in the cracks and crevices on the biting surfaces of the back teeth that are impossible for you to keep clean. Since our American diet, especially children's, is rich in refined carbohydrates (sugars) it takes very little time for the germs to eat holes in the teeth if they are allowed to stay lodged in these tiny crevices. By sealing out these areas from the germs, the opportunity for the decay is prevented.

Bacteria and plaque that cause tooth decay. Dental sealants "fill in" the crevices on the tops of the back teeth to help prevent bacteria and plaque from reaching those areas.  

Sealants are a coating that is bonded into the deepest crevices, or grooves, on the chewing surfaces of molars. These grooves are typically so deep and narrow that even the best toothbrush cannot get to the bottom of the groove to keep it clean and free of harmful bacteria that can cause decay. Some studies have shown that almost 50% of children have decay in their first permanent molars, which erupt at around age 6, by age 12! This is with the benefit of proper brushing and fluoridated water. Having sealants placed on molars that are decay-free is a great preventative move towards not getting decay on that part of the tooth.

To keep decay from starting in the grooves on the back of your teeth, your dentist may recommend dental sealants. A dental sealant is a plastic material that is applied to a chewing surface of a back tooth. The sealant material flows into the pits and grooves in the teeth. The sealant acts as a barrier, protecting enamel by "sealing out" plaque and food.

Continue Learning about Common Dental Procedures

What is tooth shaping?
Dr. Supriya VermaDr. Supriya Verma
Tooth shaping is a way to make minor changes in the tooth shape to enhance their appearance; i.e...u...
More Answers
How can a dentist fix a "gummy" smile?
Yasaman S. Roland, DDSYasaman S. Roland, DDS
Depending on the severity or the cause of the condition, different options are available. A laser gu...
More Answers
What are the advantages of dental veneers?
American Dental AssociationAmerican Dental Association
The advantages to veneers include:filling gaps in teeth covering teeth that are stained, badly shape...
More Answers
Is Teeth Whitening Safe?
Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.