Q: My child's dentist recommended sealants. What exactly are they, and are they safe? I heard the best time to put them on is immediately after a cleaning. Is this true?

—Kim, Gainesville, FL

A: Kim, I'm glad you asked because many of my patients have questions about sealants.

Dental sealants are a wonderful invention. They are a clear or tooth-colored resin that we paint on the chewing surface of the back teeth. The resin adheres to the tooth's enamel and prevents acid, plaque, and bacteria from reaching the deep crevices, pits, and fissures of the molars and premolars.

Sealants act as a protective barrier and help prevent tooth decay. As they are on the teeth's chewing surface, sealants can wear away after a few years and need to be re-applied.

In order for the sealants to better adhere to the enamel, the tooth surface needs to be free of plaque. Thus, it is optimal to apply the sealants right after a cleaning (prophylaxis), but if not, before applying the sealants the dentist will clean the chewing surface of the teeth with a special paste to ensure a successful application.

As far as benefits versus consequences, research has shown that sealants decrease the incidence of dental decay without negative side effects or health concerns from the resin used. Hopefully future research will agree with that of today.

I personally think that the benefits of sealants far outweigh the risks, and had sealants been available when I was growing up in Cuba, they would have helped prevent a lot of tooth decay.

I have almost-3-year-old twin boys, and as soon as their permanent molars come in (typically at age of 6), I will seal those teeth!

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