The chewing surfaces of the back teeth can have tiny grooves, known as fissures. Tooth decay can easily start in fissures where food can get stuck and where it is hard to clean. These grooves are too small for the bristles of toothbrushes to get in to clean.Sealants are thin plastic coatings that cover the chewing surface of back teeth. They help to prevent tooth decay by creating a smooth, easier–to-clean surface. Sealants were developed in the 1960s and have been widely used since then.
Causes of tooth decay
Everybody has the bacteria that cause tooth decay living in their mouth. When you eat, the bacteria eat too. They feed on sugars in the food and drinks you consume, and they produce acid, which damages the tooth surface (the enamel). This damage over time can lead to a cavity or ‘hole’ in the tooth.
Benefits of dental sealants
Sealants fill up the small grooves, keeping food and bacteria out and stopping decay happening in the fissures.
There are several benefits to using sealants, including that they:
- are white or clear
- fill and block up the small pits and grooves in the teeth to prevent decay
- take only a few minutes to apply
- do not cause pain
- do not need injections
- do not need any drilling
- do not dissolve in saliva
- are safe.
Sealants are put on by an oral health professional (dentist, dental therapist or oral health therapist). They usually last from two to seven years, but can last much longer. Sealants should be checked regularly by your oral health professional.
Most decay starts in the narrow pits and grooves on the biting surfaces of the back teeth (molars). The permanent molars have the highest risk of tooth decay and benefit the most from dental sealants.
For most children, the first permanent molars come through at about six or seven years of age and the second molars about age 11 or 12 years. As the molars come through, they are at greater risk of tooth decay. At these times, it is particularly important to keep up with your child’s regular dental check-ups.
Procedure for applying dental sealants
The oral health professional will:
- prepare the teeth – by cleaning and drying them
- put on the sealant – a thin layer of plastic liquid is painted into the pit (similar to the way nail polish is painted onto a fingernail)
- set the sealant – the sealant is set and becomes hard using a special light.
Other tips to help prevent tooth decay
Other ways you can help to prevent tooth decay include:
- Brush your teeth and along the gum line twice a day, in the morning and before bed.
- Over 18 months of age, use a fluoride toothpaste – low fluoride toothpaste is recommended for children aged 18 months to six years of age, and standard fluoride toothpaste is recommended for people aged six years and older.
- Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines and enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups every day.
- Avoid sugary foods and drinks, especially between meals.
- Drink plenty of tap water. Most of Victoria’s drinking water has fluoride, which helps to repair damage to teeth.
- Have regular dental check-ups. Ask your oral health professional how often you should have a check-up.
Where to get help
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Dental Health Services Victoria
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