Dental sealants are clear plastic (composite resin) coatings that are applied to a child's molars soon after they erupt to prevent tooth decay from forming. Sealants provide a physical barrier that prevents food debris and decay-causing bacteria from collecting in the chewing surfaces (also called the pits and fissures) of vulnerable teeth. It is important to place sealants on the permanent first and second molars, since they are at the highest risk for tooth decay. The pits and fissures of these teeth are often the first and most frequent sites of tooth decay in children and teens (more).
- National estimates show that as much as 90% of all dental caries in school children occurs in the molars. (Kaste LM et al, 1996)
- Clinical studies have shown that sealants continue to be effective as long as they are retained on the tooth. (Department of Health and Human Services, 2000)
Applying Dental Sealants
When to apply
- Sealants are recommended for people at high risk for tooth decay, including those with certain medical conditions, children who have had extensive decay in their primary teeth, and children with deep pits and fissures on their permanent molars.
- To be most effective, sealants should be placed on teeth soon after they erupt. This usually happens when a child is 7-8 years old (between second and third grades) for first molars and 11-13 years old (between sixth and seventh grades) for second molars.
How to apply
- A dentist examines a child's mouth to determine if sealants are needed.
- After this examination, a dentist or dental hygienist applies sealants to the molars.
- Sealants can be applied in the dental office or in the child's school through a school-based dental program.