Dental fissure sealants are a protective layer applied on the chewing teeth (the molars) to reduce tooth decay. Applying a sealant is quick and painless and can be done by your dental practitioner.
What are fissure sealants?
Sealant is most commonly applied to the grooves, known as fissures, and pits of the back molars. These are the most common locations for cavities in the teeth. The procedure can be done by a dentist, a dental hygienist or an oral health therapist.
Fissure sealants are a white or clear composite resin, similar to a white tooth filling. The sealants provide a barrier against bacteria that can cause plaque. They are designed to prevent tooth decay and cavities.
When might someone need fissure sealants?
Your dentist might advise you to have fissure sealants if you have large grooves or pits in your teeth. However you should discuss with your dentist whether or not they are necessary. Not all teeth with fissures need sealants.
Some dentists will recommend sealants for the first molar teeth, which appear at around 6 years of age. The back teeth (second and third molars) emerge at around 13 years and should be checked to see whether sealants might help. Some adults also get sealants.
Your dentist might even recommend a sealant if there is already some tooth decay. The sealant can help limit future decay.
What happens during a dental fissure sealants procedure?
Having fissure sealants applied is a quick and painless procedure. It usually takes a few minutes per tooth and is less complicated than having a cavity filling. There is no need for anaesthetic and usually no drilling.
Your dental practitioner will:
- clean and dry the tooth
- prepare the tooth surface so that the sealant bonds well
- paint on the liquid sealant, which will flow into the deep grooves and pits
- bond and harden the sealant with a strong light
- check your bite and polish off any excess sealant
What to expect after a dental fissure sealants procedure
Sometimes the sealant falls off — this will usually happen within 6 months. It is a good idea to visit the dentist regularly so they can make sure the sealant is in good condition as part of your routine dental check-up. It can wear down over the of years and will then need to be reapplied.
Benefits and risks of fissure sealants
Sealants are a simple and effective means to reduce tooth decay. They provide extra protection from decay, even to those who drink fluroridated water and brush with fluoride toothpaste. The fluoride in water and toothpaste doesn’t easily reach into deep grooves or pits. Even the bristles of a toothbrush might not reach that far.
Complications are rare but may include an allergic reaction to the sealant, or a change in your bite if the sealant layer is thick.
Alternatives to fissure sealants
Fluoride varnish can be applied to the teeth by a dental practitioner. However fluoride varnishes are mostly used in young children at high risk of developing of cavities. They need to be applied 2 to 4 times each year.
Dental Health Services Victoria (Fillings and sealants), National Dental Care (Fissure sealants), Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017 (Pit and fissure sealants for preventing dental decay in permanent teeth), Queensland Health 2017 (Fissure sealant: Informed consent – patient information), SA Health 2013 (Fissure sealants: a guide for parents and clients), Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016 (Pit and fissure sealants versus fluoride varnishes for preventing dental decay in the permanent teeth of children and adolescents), MyVMC (Pit and fissure sealants), NSW Health (Pit and fissure sealants: Use of in oral health services NSW), NHS Scotland (Fissure sealants), ACA Research (Dental fees survey, private practice members, Australian Dental Association), Department of Health Queensland (Guideline – use of fluoride varnishes)