Underused Cost-effective Tool Is an Easy Way To Prevent Decay

Armen Hareyan's picture

Dental Sealants

Dental sealants, a very thin plastic film applied to the chewing surfaces of molars and premolars (the teeth directly in front of the molars) and to the deep grooves and pits of the teeth, can prevent tooth decay in these very susceptible areas. Dental sealants have been studied for more than 20 years and have been found to be highly effective in preventing cavities, according to an article in the February 2006 issue of AGD Impact, the Academy of General Dentistry's (AGD) monthly newsmagazine.

However, the article cites several reports that explain dental sealants are still underused, despite their advantages in averting tooth decay for an average of five to seven years.

Properly applied, sealants are 100 percent effective in protecting the tooth surfaces from cavities. Because sealants act as a physical barrier to decay, protection is determined by the sealant's ability to adhere to the tooth. As long as the sealant remains intact, small food particles and bacteria that cause cavities cannot penetrate through or around the sealant.

Applying sealants is simple. The teeth are dried, then etched or conditioned (either with liquid conditioners or with air abrasion), and the sealant is "painted" onto the teeth. The sealant is then hardened with the use of a curing light.

Carol Gomez Summerhays, DDS, MAGD, AGD spokesperson, explains that sealants prevent decay by sealing the deep pits and fissures of teeth, which cannot be cleaned with a toothbrush since these areas are much smaller than the smallest toothbrush bristle. Sealants also can stop small areas of decay in enamel from becoming larger if left intact on teeth.


Sealants are safe for use on everyone's teeth, from young children to adults. The teeth most at risk are the 6-year and 12-year molars, which should be sealed as soon as they erupt.

"Premolars and primary, or baby, molars also can benefit from sealants," says Dr. Summerhays. "In the long run, prevention of tooth decay is the best treatment and will save money over the person's lifetime."

Facts about sealants:

  • Dental sealants prevent decay by sealing the deep pits and grooves of teeth.

  • Sealants are a very thin resin that is applied to teeth and then hardened.

  • Sealants can stop small areas of decay from becoming larger.

  • Sealants costs less than getting a cavity filled.