If you are getting dental sealants for your child (or yourself), congratulations—you are taking a positive step toward protecting those hard-to-reach back teeth. The procedure itself is largely painless, but it still helps to know what to expect when getting sealants placed on your (or your child’s) teeth.
Having sealants put on is a routine procedure and is usually done in the dentist’s office, just as if you were having a cavity filled. Many times it is done in conjunction with a normal cleaning and check-up. (This means you might have to block out a little more time for the visit.)
Once you or your child are in the chair, the dentist or dental hygienist will clean the teeth to make sure there is no plaque or food debris caught in the pits and crevices. Any plaque or food in your teeth will prevent the sealants from adhering properly—or worse, it will be trapped beside your tooth and cause tooth decay.
At this stage, a special gel might be applied to your teeth. This helps to make the surface of the tooth more rough so that the sealant can better bond with it. Once the gel dries, you or your child will rinse and dry the mouth. It is important to keep your mouth dry for the rest of the procedure, as saliva can disrupt the sealant bonding process.
The sealant itself is like a kind of thick, liquid plastic. When applied to a tooth, it smooshes into the grooves of your teeth. This helps the sealant stay firmly in place, just like the roots of a tree in dirt.
With some sealants, the dentist will also take an extra “hardening” step, sometimes called curing or light curing. This is done by shining a special kind of light at the sealant, using a tool that looks like a small flashlight at the end of a tube. The light helps to speed up the reaction that hardens the sealants. You do not feel the light itself, but your dentist will take care that it is not flashed into your eyes.
Once the sealants are hardened, your dentist will want to check your bite (“occlusion”). This is because the sealants’ thickness should not interfere with the way things normally close together. He or she may add or remove sealant if there appears to be too little or too much, although this is rare.
Do Sealants Hurt?
Generally, no. The process of getting dental sealants put on does not require drilling or scraping and so is quite painless. Numbing medications are almost never needed. There is the cleaning, however, so if you find a regular dental cleaning uncomfortable, you can expect that level of discomfort for a short time.
Living with Sealants Afterward
When sealants are first applied, you’ll definitely notice that they are there. You may feel like you are biting onto something, or you may notice that chewing feels just a little different. Most people adjust to them quickly, however, and after a few days don’t even notice them anymore.
Sealants should not alter you or your child’s daily routine. You or your child may eat, play, drink, and generally go about your day as usual.
Unlike fillings, sealants do not last a lifetime. With proper brushing and oral care, sealants can usually last up to 10 years. At that point (or whenever they wear out), your dentist will recommend having them re-applied.
If you are interested in learning more about sealants, we recommend checking out the other articles in our sealants category. You can find a dentist to apply sealants by using our handy dentist finder tool.