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Sealants are a safe and painless way of protecting your children's teeth from decay. A sealant is a protective, plastic coating which is applied to the biting surfaces of the back teeth. The sealant forms a hard shield that keeps food and bacteria from getting into the tiny grooves in the teeth and causing decay.

Sealants are often applied as soon as the permanent teeth start to come through. This is usually between the ages of 6 and 7. The rest are usually sealed as soon as they appear which can be any time between 11 and 14 years of age.

They are only applied to the back teeth - the molars and premolars. These are the teeth that have pits and fissures on their biting surfaces. Your dentist will tell you which teeth should be sealed after they have examined them and checked whether the fissures are deep enough for sealing to help. Some teeth naturally form with deep grooves, which will need to be sealed, others with shallow ones, which will not require sealing.

The process is quick and straightforward taking only a few minutes per tooth. The tooth is thoroughly cleaned, prepared with a special solution and dried. The liquid sealant is then applied and allowed to set hard - usually by shining a special light onto it.

Sealants normally last for many years but your dentist will want to check them regularly to make sure that the seal is still intact. They can wear over time and sometimes it may be necessary to add or replace some sealant to be sure that no decay can start underneath them. Once fissure sealants are in place, it is still vital that children clean their teeth properly. The smooth, sealed surface is now much easier to keep clean and healthy with normal brushing. Using a fluoride toothpaste will also help to protect your children's teeth.

Pit and fissure sealants, in conjunction with good home care, can significantly reduce the fillings your child may require because of decay.

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