Fissure sealants

Protecting teeth from plaque and acids

Pits and fissures are the depressions and grooves that form the natural anatomy mainly on the occlusal (biting) surfaces of teeth. They are present on all molars and premolars but can be found on some canines and incisors. Deep, narrow fissures trap food and bacteria resulting in a sticky plaque coating the tooth, this plaque produces acids which cause tooth decay.

Fissure sealants are normally applied after the permanent first teeth erupt but can be placed on primary (baby) teeth as well. Fissure sealants are a polymer or glass ionomer cement coating that covers the fissures to protect the teeth from dental plaque and acids.

The teeth may need to be thoroughly cleaned to remove plaque, food debris and staining before the sealant can be placed. Minor preparation of the tooth enamel using special air abrasion or shallow drilling with a very fine bur is sometimes needed. The tooth surface is coated with a weak acid gel which is washed away and the area dried, this step helps the sealant to stick. The fissure sealant material is applied over the tooth and a special light may be used to cure or harden the material.

Once the sealant is set your bite is checked to ensure it is natural and comfortable, some minor adjustment is normally required. The sealant fills in the fissures and forms a physical barrier against decay, some materials may release fluoride which further strengthens the tooth over time. You may experience minor discomfort from the tooth or gums from the preparation process and there is a very low risk of hypersensitivity to the materials.

Studies have shown that fissure sealants are effective in the prevention of tooth decay. As the fissure sealant wears down the level of protection is reduced and after many years can be reapplied if needed. Your dentist will review the fissure sealant and teeth during regular check-ups every six to 12 months.