A fissure sealant is a thin coating of dental filling material placed in the grooves and pits of teeth. Fissure sealants protect these surfaces from tooth decay by keeping bacteria, food particles and debris out of these grooves.
Most tooth decay in children and teens occurs on the chewing surfaces of the molars. When teeth are immature (recently erupted), they are more prone to decay. Additionally, deep grooves in the teeth may be impossible to clean with a toothbrush as seen in the image below.
The first molars usually come into the mouth when a child is about 6 years old. Second molars appear at about age 12. It is best if the sealant is applied soon after the teeth have erupted, before they have a chance to decay.
Research into fissure sealants began in the 1960s and treatment began in the 70s. Today, sealants are widely popular and effective, especially since they have been shown to prevent progression of early decay without the need for a filling.
Applying sealants does not require an injection, any drilling or removal of tooth structure. The process is quick and easy. After the tooth is cleaned, a special gel is placed on the chewing surface for a few seconds. The tooth is then washed off and dried. Then the sealant is painted on the tooth. The dentist or dental hygienist may also shine a light on the tooth to help harden the sealant. It takes about a minute for the sealant to form a protective shield. The entire procedure will usually take less than 5 minutes per tooth.
Sealants should be checked at each regular dental appointment and can be reapplied if they are no longer in place.