Decay,  Procedures

Dental Sealants for Kids and Adults – Cost, Controversy, Meaning

Key Facts

  • Dental sealants are thin protective coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth
  • They help prevent cavities by sealing off grooves and depressions where leftover food particles and bacteria can accumulate
  • Dental sealants are mainly used in children but can also benefit adults
  • Sealants are made from a plastic resin material that bonds to the tooth
  • The procedure for applying a dental sealant is simple, painless, and non-invasive
  • Dental sealant can last up to 10 years with proper care

What are Dental Sealants?

Dental sealants are a thin, protective coating that adheres to the chewing surface of your back teeth. They are often applied to the molars and premolars – which are known to have pits and fissures where food particles and bacteria can accumulate and produce acids. These back teeth are the most susceptible to cavities primarily because they are hard to clean thoroughly. Dental sealants fill in the grooves and depressions on the chewing surface of a tooth, thereby making it a smooth surface, which is easier to clean by brushing. This way fissure sealant can prevent tooth decay and make it easier to keep teeth healthy.

What Are Dental Sealants Made Of? Modern Sealant Materials

Dental sealants are made of dental materials, usually a plastic resin material or glass ionomers. This material is specifically designed to bond well with tooth enamel.
There are two types of commonly used sealant materials:

  • Resin-Based Sealants: Resin-based sealants are made of a composite material that forms a physical barrier against food particles and bacteria. They are known for their durability and are typically clear or tooth-colored, making them aesthetically pleasing.
  • Glass Ionomer Sealants: Glass ionomers chemically bond to the tooth and release fluoride over time, which helps to strengthen the teeth. However, they are generally less durable than resin-based sealants, which makes them a less popular choice of sealant material.

The materials used are tested for safety and effectiveness. Modern dental sealants are also usually free of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that has raised health concerns.

Resin-Based Sealants vs. Glass Ionomer Sealants

Resin-based sealants tend to be more durable and long-lasting compared to glass ionomer sealants. However, glass ionomer sealants have the added benefit of fluoride release.
The materials used are tested for safety and effectiveness. Modern dental sealants are also usually free of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that has raised health concerns. Sealant material and sealant bond choice as well as other dental materials choice are always made by your dentist, but it’s a good idea to discuss it before starting this preventive treatment.

What Is the Purpose of Sealants?

The primary purpose of dental sealants is to protect the chewing surfaces of teeth from decay by sealing pits. The deep fissures and grooves in molars and premolars are perfect hiding places for food particles and cavity-causing bacteria. Even with diligent brushing, it’s often impossible to clean these depressions effectively.
Dental sealant act as a barrier, sealing off the grooves and pits, which:

  • Makes it easier to clean the teeth with regular brushing
  • Protects the enamel from acid produced by bacteria in the mouth, which is what causes cavities
  • Reduces the risk of developing tooth decay

Especially in children, who may not yet have developed good brushing habits, sealants can be an excellent way to reduce the risk of cavities. However, it’s important to note that sealants are not a substitute for good oral hygiene. Regular brushing and flossing, along with a balanced diet, are still essential for maintaining oral health.

How are Dental Sealants Applied?

Dental sealant placement is a quick, simple, and painless process.
It involves the following steps:

  • Cleaning: The dentist or dental hygienist will start by thoroughly cleaning the teeth that are to be sealed. This is to ensure that no plaque or food particles are trapped under the sealant.
  • Tooth Preparation: The tooth surface is then roughened with an acid solution, which helps the dental sealant to bond more effectively to the tooth.
  • Rinsing and Drying: The teeth are rinsed to remove the acid solution and dried thoroughly.
  • Sealant Application: The dental sealant is applied to the tooth enamel on the chewing surfaces of teeth. It’s a liquid at this stage and flows into the grooves and depressions of the tooth.
  • Curing: A special curing light is often used to help the sealant harden and bond to the tooth surface.

The entire process takes just a few minutes per tooth and is completely pain-free.

Who Should Get Sealants? Who Will Benefit From Sealants?

Dental sealants are primarily recommended for children and teenagers who are at the highest risk of cavities during the ages of 6 to 14. Specifically, sealants are often applied once the permanent teeth (molars) come in, which is usually around the ages of 6 and 12. By applying sealants early, it is possible to protect the teeth through the cavity-prone years.
However, dental sealants are not exclusively for children. Adults without fillings or tooth decay in their molars can also benefit from dental sealants. Sealants can be applied to adult teeth at any age, as long as the tooth does not have any cavities or fillings.
Sealants can also be useful for baby teeth in some cases. If a child’s baby teeth have deep depressions and grooves, applying sealants can prevent them from developing cavities, which is important since baby teeth play a significant role in holding the correct spacing for permanent teeth.

What are the Benefits of Dental Sealants?

Dental sealants offer several benefits, including:

  • Cavity Prevention: They are highly effective in preventing cavities by sealing off grooves and depressions where food particles and cavity-causing bacteria can accumulate.
  • Cost-Effective: In the long run, the cost of applying dental sealants is much less than the cost of getting dental fillings or crowns to treat cavities.
  • Non-Invasive Procedure: Fissure sealants are simple and painless process, with no drilling or removal of tooth structure.
  • Long-Lasting Protection: Dental sealants can last for several years before a reapplication is needed.

What are the Disadvantages of Dental Sealants?

There are a few disadvantages and considerations regarding dental sealants:

  • Not Indestructible: Dental sealants can sometimes chip or wear away over time. However, they can be easily reapplied.
  • Limited Protection: Sealants only protect the surfaces they are applied to and do not safeguard between teeth or other unsealed areas from cavities.
  • Allergic Reactions: Very rarely, a person might have an allergic reaction to the material used in the sealant.
  • BPA Content: Some dental sealants contain small amounts of BPA. However, the American Dental Association states that exposure is minimal and that sealants are safe.

It’s important to weigh the benefits and considerations and to discuss any concerns with a dentist to make an informed decision on whether dental sealants are the right choice for you or your child.

Indications and Contraindications of Sealants


  • Newly erupted permanent molars
  • Deep pits and fissures
  • History of dental caries


  • Shallow or naturally self-cleansing pits and fissures
  • The presence of cavities or fillings on the tooth

Dental Sealants Questions and Answers

How Common Are Sealants on Chewing Surfaces?

The use of dental sealants has become increasingly common, especially in pediatric dentistry. Many schools even have programs in which a dentist or dental hygienist will apply sealants to children’s teeth with parental permission. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dental sealants prevent 80% of cavities for two years after application and continue to protect against 50% of cavities for up to four years.

How Long Do Dental Sealants Last on Tooth Surface?

Dental sealants can last for several years effectively preventing dental caries. The longevity of dental sealants can vary, but on average, sealants last around 5 to 10 years. However, it is important to have regular dental check-ups, as the dentist can monitor the condition of the sealants and reapply them if necessary. Over time, they can wear down or chip, but damaged sealants can be easily reapplied – placing sealants is a simple and straightforward procedure.

Sealants Effectiveness on Permanent Molars

Dental sealants have been proven to be highly effective in preventing decay in the chewing surfaces of permanent teeth (molars and premolars). By forming a protective shield over the enamel, they reduce the risk of cavities.

Prevalence of Sealants

The use of dental sealants is more prevalent in developed countries, and they are widely recommended by dental associations as part of preventive dental care for children and teenagers. In the United States, 42% of children aged 6–11 and 48% of adolescents aged 12–19 had fissure sealants on permanent molars and premolars during 2011–2016.

What is the Recovery Time?

Dental sealants are set and cured almost instantly with the use of a special light during the application process. Therefore, there is essentially no recovery time. Patients can resume their normal activities immediately after the procedure.

Do I Have to Prepare for Sealants?

There is no special preparation needed for getting dental sealants. However, before the procedure, the dentist will examine the teeth to ensure that there is no decay present and that the teeth are healthy enough for the sealants. The procedure is non-invasive and painless. It’s a good idea to ensure that your teeth are clean before the procedure, so it’s best to brush and floss before your appointment. Additionally, if you have any concerns or questions, it’s a good idea to write them down so you can discuss them with your dentist before the procedure begins.

When Should I See My Dentist?

While dental sealants are durable, they are not permanent. It is important to see your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings, usually every six months. During these visits, your dentist can examine the condition of your sealants and check for any signs of wear or chipping. If your sealants become damaged or worn down, your dentist can reapply them to ensure continued protection against cavities. Moreover, if you notice any issues with your sealants, such as them feeling loose or you experience discomfort in the area, it is advisable to schedule an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible.

Are Dental Sealants Necessary?

The necessity of dental sealants can vary depending on individual oral health needs and risk factors for tooth decay. For children and teenagers who are more susceptible to cavities, especially in the grooves and depressions of the back teeth, dental sealants can be highly beneficial. They are also useful for adults who have deep grooves in their teeth or are prone to cavities. Dental sealants are considered a preventive measure, and while not mandatory, they can be an effective tool in maintaining oral health and preventing the development of cavities. It is best to consult with your dentist to determine if dental sealants are a good option for you or your child.

Do I Still Need to Use Fluoride if I Have Dental Sealants?

Yes, using fluoride is still important as it helps to strengthen the enamel and prevent decay in all areas of the teeth.

Sealant, Filling, or Crown?

While sealants are preventive, fillings and crowns are restorative treatments used to repair teeth after decay. Sealants are often used to avoid the need for fillings or crowns.

Is There BPA in Sealants?

Some dental sealants may contain small amounts of BPA. The American Dental Association has stated that the BPA exposure from dental sealants is minimal and poses no known health risks. However, if you have concerns about BPA, it is best to discuss them with your dentist and explore BPA-free options.
Dental Sealants Controversy 2019: in 2019, there was some controversy regarding the presence of BPA (Bisphenol A) in dental sealants. Concerns were raised about potential health risks associated with exposure to BPA.

Can a Sealant be Placed Over Existing Tooth Decay?

Sealants can be placed over areas of early decay to prevent the decay from progressing. However, sealants cannot treat existing cavities or replace the need for a filling.

How Do I Care for My Sealants?

Care for dental sealants is similar to caring for your natural teeth. Maintain good oral hygiene through regular brushing and flossing. Avoid chewing hard objects or foods as they can cause the sealants to chip or come off.

Do Dental Sealants Work?

Yes, dental sealants are highly effective in preventing tooth decay in the molars and premolars.

When Can I Eat or Drink?

Since dental sealants are cured and hardened almost immediately, you can eat and drink right after the procedure. There are no restrictions, and you don’t have to wait for a certain period before consuming food or beverages. However, it is always a good idea to maintain good oral hygiene practices, such as brushing and flossing regularly, to ensure the longevity of the sealants and the overall health of your teeth.

Risks of Dental Sealants

There are very few risks associated with dental sealants. Some people may have an allergy to the material, but this is rare.

Can Dental Sealants be Removed?

Yes, dental sealants can be removed by a dentist if necessary. However, they usually wear away over time. Removal procedure is painless and easy.

How Much do Dental Sealants Cost?

The cost of dental sealants varies depending on location and dental office. On average, sealants cost between $30 and $60 per tooth (as of 2023).

Are Sealants Covered by Dental Insurance?

Many dental plans cover sealants, especially for children (primary dentition). Check with your insurance provider for specifics on coverage.

How to Prevent Cavities without Dental Sealants

Preventing cavities without dental sealants involves maintaining good oral hygiene through regular brushing with floride toothpaste (hydroxyapatite works great too!) and flossing, limiting sugary foods and drinks, using fluoride varnish, and attending regular dental check-ups to treat caries at early stages, before you get a full blown cavity.

Bottom Line

Dental sealants are a preventive dental treatment that can be effective at preventing caries, especially in the vulnerable grooves and pits on the chewing surfaces where toothbrush bristles cannot effectively reach. They are particularly beneficial for children and teenagers, but adults can also reap the clean. Regular dental visits are essential to monitor the condition of the sealants, and it’s important to maintain good oral hygiene practices. Dental sealants provide caries prevention and as an investment in dental health that can save time, money, and discomfort in the long term by reducing the risk of cavities. Consult your dentist to find out if dental sealants are the right choice for you or your family.

This article is complete and was published on June 17, 2023, and last updated on December 12, 2023.

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