Unless you’ve ever shone a really bright torch into someone’s mouth, you might never have noticed that the teeth are not just square little white blocks. They’re actually covered in grooves and bumps which play a critical role in how we chew our food, and how our teeth fit together. Although everyone’s molars have a similar appearance that defines them as a molar, every single molar in the world is different, just like a fingerprint. In fact, some people have really deep grooves or valleys in their teeth, and this can create problems for them. Dentists refer to these grooves as “fissures” which is a word that came from an old term meaning “to split”. It’s essentially a naturally occurring “split” in the surface of the tooth.
Deep grooves in teeth are a problem because plaque loves to get stuck in them. Let’s quickly go back to what plaque is, because that is important. There is always a thin film that forms on teeth to protect them – this is known as pellicle. It is mostly made up of proteins from saliva. Once we eat food though, bacteria starts to stick to this pellicle and a more complex film called plaque is formed. Just like dirt on the floor, plaque doesn’t really like sticking to flat and smooth surfaces, but it loves sticking to rough areas or burrowing into grooves! This is why most dental decay happens in these areas, rather than the smooth parts of teeth.
We turn those rough grooves into flat surfaces! The easiest way to do this, is to fill in the grooves before any decay has started. Your dentist starts inspecting the surface of the molars once they have erupted at around six years of age. If they see that the grooves in your molars are deep, rough or wide enough to trap a lot of plaque, they may recommend evening them out to reduce the risk of dental decay.
Although some front teeth have their fissures sealed, it is predominantly the molars that have it done, so that is how the procedure will be done. Fissure sealing is an extremely non-invasive technique whereby the surface of the molar is cleaned, some glue is applied, and some very runny white filling material is applied to the tooth and set hard through the use of a light. It is almost exactly the same process as having a white filling placed on a tooth, but there is no numbing required, usually no drilling carried out, and very little smoothing off at the end of the appointment. One fissure sealant rarely takes longer than five minutes.
Humans are very symmetrical, especially when it comes to the mouth. If we see deep grooves in one of the molars, we tend to see them in all of the molars. As this is a preventative procedure, we try to seal the fissures of all four molars in one go. Some people also require sealing on their twelve year old molars, their premolars, or even some of the front teeth. This all just depends on the anatomy of their teeth.