Dental sealants are a thin, plastic coating painted on the chewing surfaces of teeth (usually the back teeth) forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth so they are protected from tooth decay by "sealing out" plaque and food.
Children and teenagers are candidates for sealants because of the likelihood of developing decay in the depressions and grooves of the premolars and molars, but adults without decay or fillings in their molars can also benefit from sealants.
The procedure takes only a few minutes and is simple and painless. The dentist or hygienist will first thoroughly clean the teeth that are to be sealed and then roughen them up with an acid solution, which helps the sealant bond to the teeth.
The teeth are then rinsed and dried and then the sealant is painted onto the tooth enamel, where it bonds directly to the tooth and hardens (sometimes with a special curing light).
Sealants can protect the teeth from decay for up to 10 years, but they need to be checked for chipping or wearing at regular dental check-ups so they can be replaced as necessary.
Many insurance companies cover the cost of sealants.