Sealants have long been a routine part of preventive dental care for children. Since at least the 1970s, sealants have been placed on children’s teeth in order to prevent cavities and decay.
The point of sealants is to prevent decay by making it impossible for cavity-causing bacteria to accumulate in the deep grooves on molars, which can be harder to clean. Sealants can be made from several tooth-coloured materials: resin-based is the most common, followed closely by glass ionomer (GIC). The sealant material starts as a liquid and is cured (hardened) in place on the tooth. Sealants should be applied to the molars as soon as they come in, usually around age ten. Contrary to rumours, sealant materials don’t contain the chemical BPA and do no put children at risk of long-term BPA exposure.
Sealants can last as long as 5 years, and many last even longer, well into adulthood. Resin-based sealants are shown to last much longer than glass ionomer sealants, but glass ionomer sealants have the added benefit that they slowly release fluoride, which strengthens tooth enamel and can therefore help prevent decay. Sealants on permanent molars reduce cavities by over 80 percent.
Sealants are recommended for children who are at a high risk of cavities, such as those who have yet to develop reliable oral hygiene habits. The American Dental Association actually recommends that all children or adolescents get sealants, regardless of a perceived higher risk of cavities. There is little reliable evidence of the effectiveness of sealants in preventing tooth decay in adults, so it is very rare for sealants to be applied to adults. That being said, many adults still have the sealants that they got as children, and as long as the sealant is present it should continue to be effective.
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