When should dental sealants be placed? How long will they last?
At what age should tooth sealants be placed?
Most dental sealants (tooth sealants) are placed on the teeth of children. In order to properly place a sealant, a dentist must be able to keep the tooth dry.
This means that, at a minimum, the chewing surface of the tooth being sealed must be erupted (positioned through the gum tissue significantly). The patient must also be at an age where they can provide some degree of cooperation. The specific point at which this combination of events occurs will vary from child to child.
Molars, the first of a child's permanent back teeth to come in, are typically sealed at around age 6. Other permanent teeth can be treated when they too first appear. Usually the last teeth to be sealed are the permanent second molars, which come in at around age 12. Of course, teeth that don't yet have this protection can be sealed at any point or age.
An adult's teeth can be sealed, although this procedure is typically utilized as a preventive measure for children so to help protect their teeth during those years when they are most likely to experience tooth decay. The need for dental sealants for either a child's or an adult's teeth should be considered on a case by case basis. After their examination, a dentist can tell you what they feel is indicated for your situation.
[Continue on to our next page to see the steps involved with sealing a tooth.]
Which teeth are dental sealants usually placed on?
Any tooth that has anatomical characteristics (such as deep grooves) that might place it at risk for developing tooth decay should be sealed. By far the most common teeth for a dentist to seal are a person's "back" teeth, and of these teeth the molars are the most common teeth on which dental sealants are placed. It is probably more common for a dentist to seal "permanent" teeth rather than "baby" teeth, but every person has their own needs. Your dentist will make their recommendation for sealants on a case by case basis.
Should sealants always be placed?
Not all teeth require the protection that dental sealants can provide. After an examination your dentist can report to you what they feel is indicated for you or for your child.
It is the shape of their grooves (pits and fissures) that can place some teeth at greater risk for cavity formation than others. Those people whose grooves are deep and narrow will have a more urgent need for dental sealants than those people whose grooves are naturally shallow and rounded.
Beyond pit and fissure anatomy, your dentist will consider other variables that might indicate that a tooth is at risk for developing decay and thus a candidate for a sealant. They will evaluate the amount of dental plaque they find present, the amount of decay the patient has experienced in the past, and the patient's current exposure to an appropriate amount of fluoride.
How long do dental sealants last?
The longevity of dental sealants can vary. Any sealants that remain in place and intact for three to five years would be considered a success, however, sealants can last much longer. It is fairly common to see sealants that were placed during childhood still intact on the teeth of adults. Any sealants that do come off sooner than three to five years should not necessarily be considered failures. Any length of time a sealant remains in place is a time period during which a tooth is protected.
A dental sealant can only provide adequate protection when it is fully intact. If you notice that a portion, or even the entire sealant, has come off you should let your dentist know. Additionally, during your regular check up your dentist will evaluate the status of your sealants.
One reason why a sealant might dislodge is because when it was placed the dentist was not able to keep the tooth adequately dry. In the case of children this is very often related to the degree of cooperation that the child can, or chooses to, offer. As a child becomes older and more mature, it seems likely that the second attempt to seal the tooth will be more successful.