Sealants protect the back teeth from decay that starts in deep grooves on these teeth. They work by filling these grooves with a substance that is much like bonded filling material. This produces a smooth surface on the tooth that will not collect the food particles that can cause tooth decay. Sealant placement is preventive and not invasive. It requires no drilling or Novocain and is performed by our hygienist. Any time Dr. McArdle finds one of these deep grooves (not all back teeth have them) that is not decayed, he will advise that it be sealed. Obviously, if decay is present, sealing the tooth is not possible and it will need to be filled. Sealants are designed to prevent decay. If decay is already present, sealing a tooth will only allow the decay to advance unchecked. Studies have shown that stains in deep grooves that are not decayed may be sealed over without fear of decay starting thereafter.
Sealants are useful for all permanent back teeth with deep, decay prone grooves. They are generally not placed on primary (baby) teeth because these teeth have a limited life span. There are two types of back teeth (any tooth behind the eye teeth is considered a back tooth), molars and premolars. Molars are the large, wide teeth in the back of the mouth. There are three molar teeth in each quadrant (corner) of the mouth. First molars normally appear at age six, second molars at age twelve and third molars (commonly called wisdom teeth) between eighteen and twenty-one if they are not impacted and appear at all. The grooves on molar teeth are generally on the chewing surfaces and some times on the cheek side (lowers) or on the roof of the mouth side (uppers). Premolars are the back teeth between eye teeth and molars. Their grooves are almost always on the chewing surfaces.
The grooves on the chewing surface of this
patient's last molar (left) have been sealed.
It is advisable to seal deeply grooved permanent back teeth as soon as they are present in the mouth, but as long as they are free from decay, they may be sealed at any age. For reasons that have never been fully explained and seem totally illogical, most dental plans will not cover sealants for adults or on premolar teeth even though decay is just as prevalent in these cases as it is for the permanent molars of children. Sealants are much more cost effective than fillings in that they are less involved, require less time to place and are less than half as costly as the most inexpensive filling. Our office coordinator can help answer any questions you may have about this situation. If you have any questions about sealants or any other aspects of preventive dentistry, please ask Dr. McArdle