The transition from primary teeth ("baby teeth") to permanent teeth goes through several stages starting around age 6 or 7 and ending around age 12 or 13. What many people don't realize is that the permanent molars don't actually replace any primary teeth, but instead grow into the space behind all the primary molars. This first set of molars erupts around age six! The next set comes in around age 12. The final set of molars (wisdom teeth) appear in the later teen years. Compared to primary molars, the permanent molars typically have very deep grooves and fissures on the chewing surface of the teeth which readily attract food and bacteria. The teeth are also located far back in hard to reach areas for a growing mouth. Then throw in the fact that adolescents often struggle with adequate oral hygiene and you have a recipe for disaster! We typically recommend sealants for the first and second molars for all children to protect the teeth while they learn how to properly care for their teeth. Sealants are a protective coating painted on the tooth to seal off the cavity-prone grooves and fissures. We'll usually try to seal all four teeth in one appointment around age 6 and again around age 12.
To prepare the teeth for sealants the areas to be sealed are thoroughly cleaned and evaluated for existing decay. The sealant is then flowed into the grooves and hardened with our curing light. The appointment can be very simple and takes less than an hour. The most challenging aspect is keeping the tooth isolated and dry so the sealant can be placed adequately. This may require some extra patience for an energetic child, but overall it is a completely painless and simple procedure.
Sealants are not meant to last forever. Ideally they'll last through the teen years. At this point a person should be better able to care for their own teeth without the aid of sealants. If parts of a sealant are lost before this time they can be quickly repaired during a routine checkup.