Dental Sealants: The procedure.

- The individual steps of the tooth sealing process. / What type of material is placed? / Inter-active graphic for kids.

Slideshow of each of the steps of the tooth sealing procedure.

Slideshow of the individual steps of dental sealant placement.

There are few dental procedures that are as easy, quick and painless as having sealants placed.

And considering that they help to prevent the need for a filling, anyone and everyone should be eager to have this procedure performed. It makes an especially good introductory dental procedure for children.

Step 1 - Cleaning the tooth.

The dentist must first clean the surface of the tooth, otherwise the sealant will not bond to it properly.

The dentist will place a small brush in their dental drill. As the drill spins the brush, they'll use it to scrub the tooth's surface and clean out its grooves.

Variations: If after using a brush the grooves of the tooth still seem to harbor debris, the dentist may take extra steps.

  • Air-abrasion technique. - This method involves using a mini sandblaster on your tooth. The machine itself will make a "blowing" noise, and using it can be a little messy. But overall the process of cleaning out the grooves of your tooth this way is painless.
  • Enameloplasty. - With this method the dentist uses their dental drill to buff off the remaining debris. The amount of trimming is very slight. No anesthetic is required.
Takeaways from this section.

Agrawal (2012) [page references] studied the microleakage of dental sealants involving different types of tooth surface cleansing.

It determined that: 1) Surface preparation using a drill produced results that were significantly superior to any other technique. 2) Air abrasion technique was significantly better than the use of a brush.

While many dentists may not have an air abrasion unit, every dentist has a dental drill.

Illustration of a tooth whose surface is being etched with a mild acid in preparation for sealant placement.

Etching gel is applied to the tooth's surface in preparation for sealant placement.

Step 2 (frame B) - Conditioning the tooth's surface.

After cleaning the tooth, the dentist will spread "etching" gel over that area where the dental sealant will be placed.

Once they get it positioned properly, they'll allow the gel to sit for somewhere between 20 and 60 seconds and then wash it off.

What does this step do?

The etchant prepares the tooth's surface so the sealant will be able to bond to it (see below).


  • Tooth etchants are acidic (they contain phosphoric acid). If you were to get some on your tongue, it wouldn't hurt but it would taste bitter or sour.
  • The acidic nature of the etchant has the added benefit of killing bacteria that lie at the bottom of the tooth grooves being sealed.

Illustration of an etched tooth surface ready to receive a dental sealant.

Etched tooth enamel has a frosted-glass appearance.

Step 3 (frame C) - Evaluation of the etching step.

After washing the etching gel off, and using their air gun to blow the tooth dry, the dentist will evaluate their work.

The part of the tooth that has been treated should look white, frosty and dull (not unlike the way etched glass looks).

A simple warning.

Once your tooth's surface has been conditioned, it must remain dry for the remainder of the process. If saliva contamination occurs, the tooth must be re-etched. (So keep your mouth wide open.)

What the etching step has accomplished.

The tooth's frosty look holds the key to the whole dental-sealant bonding process.

At a microscopic level, the acidic etchant has dissolved some of the mineral content from the tooth's enamel surface. That means the tooth is now rough rather than smooth (hence the change in its appearance).

The dental sealant is able to stay in place because it can grasp onto (bond to) this roughened surface.


Illustration of the application of liquid dental sealant.

The sealant (a thick liquid) is dabbed into the tooth's grooves.

Step 4 (frame D) - Applying the sealant.

While the tooth is still dry, the dentist will apply the sealant (a liquid plastic) into the grooves of the tooth.

They might do this using a small brush or squirt it out of a mini syringe.

  • The liquid nature of the sealant is such that it will flow into each groove's nooks and crannies.
  • The sealant isn't used to fill in the tooth's entire chewing surface but instead just those areas (chewing surface and sides) that involve pits and fissures that have the potential to trap and retain debris.
Takeaways from this section.

The type of sealant we describe on this page is "resin" based. This material is similar to that used to create white dental fillings, and is the type that's most commonly used with this procedure.

Other classes of materials can be used but usually just in special situations. Some of them don't require an etching step or the use of a curing light (the next step discussed).


Illustration of setting a dental sealant using a curing light.

The sealant is set by shining a curing light on it.

Step 5 (frame E) - Curing the sealant.

Once the dentist has the liquid sealant positioned properly, they'll set it using a "curing" light. This is a kind of dental flashlight that outputs blue light.

The color of the light is important because sealing products are formulated with a catalyst that's activated by light having this specific hue.

That means the sealant will stay in liquid form for as long as the dentist needs it to. But once it's been positioned properly, it can be set instantly (in about 60 seconds or so) simply by shining a curing light on it.

Takeaways from this section.

As a variation, some types/brands of sealants autopolymerize. Two components (part A and part B) are mixed together. The mixture then sets on its own within a minute or two, which means the dentist has to work pretty quickly.

Studies have shown that the retention (success) rates of light-cured and autopolymerized sealants are very similar (Haisch 2013). Neither holds an advantage in terms of effectiveness.

Illustration of a completed dental sealant.

The sealant is finished and ready to go.

Step 6 (frame F) - Evaluating the sealant.

Once the dentist has finished curing the sealant, it's fully hardened and ready to be used.

Of course, the dentist will want to evaluate their work. For example, they'll check to see that all of the grooves have been filled in sufficiently.

Picture of two teeth that have dental sealants.

Completed dental sealants.

Checking the bite.

They'll also need to check the way other teeth bite against the tooth. The dentist doesn't want the sealant's thickness to interfere with the way things normally close together.

If it does, the dentist will buff the sealant for a split second or two with their dental drill, so to thin it out.

Step 7 - The sealing process is now finished.

After it's passed its evaluation, the new sealant is ready to be used. Eating and drinking, even immediately, should pose no problem.

Takeaways from this section.

Sometimes after you've left your dentist's office you'll notice that your bite seems just a little bit off. That's usually because after staying open for your procedure it's hard to just close normally when your bite is checked.

Let your dentist know if you have this problem. In most cases, since dental sealant material is fairly soft it will wear down on its own and allow your bite to return to normal.


OK, time to see how
much you've learned!

How long does the whole process take?

Assuming that the patient is cooperative and the dentist has easy access and good visibility, the process of actually sealing any one tooth might take as little as 5 or 6 minutes, start to finish.

Is that really all there is to it?

Yes that's it, with the exception that your dentist needs to monitor the condition of your sealants at your dental checkups.


Tooth isolation during your procedure.

Picture of 2 teeth isolated by a rubber dam ready for dental sealant placement.

Teeth that have been isolated using a rubber dam and are ready to be sealed.

During the sealing process, it's important for the dentist to keep the tooth they are working on dry (this is termed tooth "isolation"). A failure to do so will interfere with the bonding process, and typically results in sealant loss (partial or whole).

The dentist may choose to isolate the tooth by way of packing cotton rolls or gauze around it. Or, as shown in our picture, by placing a "rubber dam" around the tooth, or teeth, being treated.

Rubber dams.

A rubber dam is a sheet of latex. The dentist punches holes in it (one for each tooth) and then fits it over the teeth receiving treatment. Because it separates the portion of the teeth that the dentist is working on from the rest of the mouth, it is easy for the dentist to keep them dry.

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What type of sealant material is placed?

  • The materials most frequently used to seal teeth are dimethacrylate monomer (BIS-GMA) diluted with a co-monomer, or else urethane dimethacrylate (UDMA).

    As complex as these names sound, they're just plastic compounds (or as dentists refer to them, "resins.") These materials are similar in nature to those that are used to create white fillings.

  • As alternatives, other types of materials can be used instead. This includes glass-ionomer dental cement (the most frequently used alternative). Historically, zinc phosphate dental cement was used also. (FYI, both of these products can be used for other applications, like cementing dental crowns.)

(Haisch 2013, Cvikl 2018)

Takeaways from this section.

When glass ionomer cement is used to seal teeth, the steps of the sealing process remain essentially the same as outlined above.

  • A major exception is that no etching step is needed. (An etched enamel surface is not required to create its bond with tooth enamel.)
  • Additionally, moisture control is less critical when glass ionomer cement is applied. This factor may be quite beneficial for some cases (like those involving patients that are very young or else uncooperative, or teeth that are not yet fully erupted).

Resin-based sealant options and variations.
  • Resin sealants can be white, clear or colored. White and colored plastics are generally easier to see and therefore easier to monitor. But using clear resin makes it possible for the dentist to visualize what's going on underneath.
  • Some sealant formulations contain fluoride, which is considered an aid in increasing the tooth's resistance to decay formation.

How much did you learn?

Try to remember what the dentist does at each step of the sealing process. Click the number of each step to see if you're right!








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Talk things up with your child.

Children who have never had a filling placed will have little concept of the type of difficulties the simple task of placing a sealant can prevent. And because of this, they may be unmotivated to offer much cooperation.

If that's the case, what is normally a very simple procedure may become a struggle. Or their lack of cooperation may affect the quality of the dentist's work.

As a parent, you should take efforts (before their appointment) to communicate with your child about the importance of giving the dentist their utmost cooperation. Doing so will improve their experience, and possibly the level of protection their sealant will be able to provide.




I had this done. My dentist sand blasted my teeth. Then they washed and dried each tooth and then put a blue light on it. I'm 8. Easy


Thanks for the testimony.

To others reading, from Brian's (the patient's) perspective, that does seem to be about all that goes on. However for a fuller description of each step involved, see our text above.

The "sand blasting" he refers to is the dentist's use of air abrasion technique. This optional step is described above too.

Thanks again Brian.

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