About Dental Sealants

Key points

  • Dental sealants provide protection against cavities for many years.
  • Dental sealants are thin coatings applied to the chewing surfaces of back teeth.
  • School sealant programs can make a big difference in improving children's oral health. These programs are especially helpful for children in lower-income communities or those who are more likely to develop cavities.


A dental sealant is a protective coating that is painted onto the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. It acts as a barrier, preventing cavities and helping to keep your child's teeth healthy. Sealants can last for many years.


Children of all ages can benefit from dental sealants. They can be applied to both baby (primary) teeth and adult (permanent) teeth, starting from the age of 2 and continuing throughout adulthood. School programs are one way to provide sealants to children living in communities with lower incomes or those at risk for cavities.1

Prevention steps and strategies

Sealants are most effective when applied soon after the adult molars come in. The first molars typically come in around the age of 6, and the second molars come in around the age of 12. When sealants are applied at these times, they can prevent up to 80% of cavities for 2 years and continue to protect against 50% of cavities for up to 4 years.1

School sealant programs are a great way to reach children who may not have access to regular dental care. These programs deliver sealants to children who are at high risk for cavities and help avoid the need for students to miss school for dental appointments. The programs are also cost-effective, as each sealed tooth saves more than $11 in dental treatment costs.2

Prevention methods

Sealants work by creating a protective shield on the chewing surfaces of the teeth. This shield blocks out germs and food particles that can cause cavities. Applying sealants is a quick process that can be done by dental professionals. They first dry the tooth, apply the sealant material, and then either use a light to harden the sealant or let it set on its own. After the sealants are applied, the child can eat and drink as usual without any restrictions.

Depending on state laws and rules, sealants can be applied by dentists, dental hygienists, or other qualified dental professionals. This can be done in dental offices or using portable dental equipment in community settings like schools.

Why prevention is important

Sealants are an easy way to protect the back teeth (molars) from cavities. Children aged 6 to 11 years without sealants are almost three times more likely to have cavities in their molars compared to children with sealants. By applying sealants to the nearly 7 million children in households with lower incomes who do not have sealants, we could prevent more than 3 million cavities and save up to $300 million in dental treatment costs.2

Making a plan

Parents or caregivers can help by:

  • Asking your child's dentist or dental hygienist to apply sealants when appropriate.
  • Signing your child up to participate in a school sealant program. If your school does not have a sealant program, ask them to start one.
  • Finding a dentist if your child needs one. If needed, use the Insure Kids Now Dentist Locator to find a dentist that takes Medicaid and CHIP.

School administrators can help by:

  • Working with the local or state public health programs and local dental providers to start school sealant programs.
  • Supporting sealant programs in schools and promoting its benefits to teachers, staff, parents, and caregivers.
  • Encouraging schools to develop relationships with local dental offices and community dental clinics to help children get dental care.
  • Helping children enroll in sealant programs by putting information for parents in registration packets in the beginning of the school year.

Dental care teams can help by:

  • Applying sealants to children at highest risk of cavities, including those covered by Medicaid/CHIP.
  • Donating time and resources to a school dental sealant program.
  • Learning about school dental sealant programs and their effectiveness.
  • Accepting children into their practice who are identified, in school sealant programs, as needing more services.

What CDC is doing

CDC's Division of Oral Health (DOH) provides funding for public health programs and partners to support the basic infrastructure and coordination of school sealant programs. Currently, DOH funds 20 states and one territory. The funds help to implement evidence-based preventive interventions, such as expanding sealant delivery in rural schools and schools with students from lower-income families.

DOH also collects data on school sealant programs through the Sealant Efficiency Assessment for Locals and States (SEALS) system. SEALS helps state and local health officials determine the effectiveness of their school sealant programs. This data tracking and reporting system helps prioritize resources for those who need it most.

  1. Guide to Community Preventive Services. Dental Caries (Cavities): School-Based Dental Sealant Delivery Programs. Accessed December 15, 2023. https://www.thecommunityguide.org/findings/dental-caries-cavities-school-based-dental-sealant-delivery-programs.html.
  2. Griffin SO, Wei L, Gooch BF, Weno K, Espinoza L. Vital signs: dental sealant use and untreated tooth decay among U.S. school-aged children. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65(41):1141–1145.