Used to prevent fissure and pit cavities, dental sealants cover the tooth in a hard plastic material. They are most commonly applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, where food tends to gather in natural grooves and crevices. The bristles of a toothbrush are often not quite long enough to reach the depths of these areas, and decay can develop as a result. Dental sealants protect these areas and create a smoother surface that the patient can more easily clean.
As part of the Human Services Healthy People 2020 initiative, the United States Department of Health and Human Services recommended an increase in the use of dental sealants for children and adolescents. Dental sealants are particularly useful for patients between the ages of 6 and 14, as these years tend to see a particularly high incidence of cavities in the permanent teeth. Some younger children may also be candidates for the procedure, particularly if baby teeth present with deep grooves that would be difficult to clean. Similarly, older adolescents and adults may benefit from sealants on deeply grooved teeth, provided that those teeth do not have pre-existing decay or fillings.