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Preventing tooth decay can become even easier. You may already be aware that daily brushing and flossing are the most important weapons against the formation of plaque, the primary cause of cavities. In addition to your regular routine of brushing and flossing, your dentist can apply a coat of plastic material called a –sealant – on the top or biting surfaces of your back teeth. This plastic coating creates a barrier on your teeth and seals out the decay-causing bacteria that live in plaque.


What is plaque and why does it cause cavities?

The food and liquids you eat and drink combine with bacteria to produce a sticky film called plaque. Plaque attaches on and in between teeth where it starts to eat away at the tooth enamel. If plaque is not removed regularly by brushing and flossing your teeth, it can produce acids that will create pits or holes (cavities) in the tooth. This is tooth decay.

How can sealants help prevent cavities?

Coating your teeth with a slippery plastic material makes it harder for the plaque to stick to the tiny groves on the biting surfaces of the back teeth – reducing the risk of forming cavities and tooth decay.

Is it difficult to apply sealants?

No. Your dentist may use a special instrument to apply the plastic sealant on your teeth. Most often, it is a painless treatment that lasts for many months

Who should get sealants?

Sealants are most effective in reducing cavities in children with newly formed permanent teeth. They are useful in cutting down formation of decay in adult teeth, as well. An application of sealants is a preventative measure to keep teeth healthy. It is an effective way to reduce the need for fillings and more expensive treatments that may be required to repair the damage from cavities, so sealants can save you money.

Ask your CDA dentist whether sealants would be an appropriate treatment for you and your children to help prevent tooth decay.

Copyright 2001, California Dental Association, All Rights Reserved

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Dr. Eric Vanek, d.d.s

Eric has been a practicing dental surgeon for over 20 years and is the owner of Vanek Dentistry, a family dental practice in Costa Mesa, CA.

Published September 11, 2014. Updated August 16, 2021