Good oral hygiene, including brushing twice a day and flossing, can help you keep your teeth in good condition, and with luck they may last your whole life. An unfortunate truth is that most of us don’t give our teeth and gums the attention they need, leading to decay and other dental health problems. Accidents, lifestyle and illness can also lead to tooth and gum damage.
Even if you don’t see a dentist at least once a year (preferable every six months) for a checkup as recommended , it’s all but inevitable that you will need a dental treatment at some stage of your life. Common treatments range from a simple clean and scaling through to complicated surgery or tooth replacement.
Cleaning and Scaling
The most common dental procedure is a professional cleaning. This addresses any buildup of plaque on the surface of your teeth. Before a cleaning begins, the dentist uses a tool known as a scaler to remove any built up plaque or tartar (hardened plaque) from the surface of the tooth.With the aid of a small handheld dental mirror, the dentist uses the scaler to scrape away any buildup. It is usually done with an ultrasonic machine nowadays, that is quicker, and less invasive, with less scraping. Scaling may sound rather awful, both literally and figuratively - the noise made by metal scraping on teeth is quite unpleasant - but it is a painless process. The more tartar has built up the more scraping needs to be done in one spot.
After the scaling, the teeth are brushed using a gritty toothpaste and high-powered electric brush. The gritty paste gently scours the surface of the teeth giving them a deep clean. Again it’s not the most pleasant sounding procedure but it is painless and effective. Given the intensive nature of a professional dental clean, it’s not recommended that people have more than one clean every six months.
After the cleaning, the dentist will often floss the teeth before you are given a mouth rinse to expel any residue or particles dislodged by the cleaning.
Often given following a clean and scaling, a fluoride treatment creates a protective barrier around your teeth to help guard against decay for a few months. The treatment is usually administered via a mouthpiece filled with a fluoride gel or foam. The mouthpiece is placed over the teeth for a minute or so, allowing them to soak in the fluoride solution.
Dental Sealants and Fillings
A dental sealant is when a filling material is placed in the deep grooves of the permanent molars (back teeth) to help guard against decay. These deep grooves, or fissures, in the molars make a good home for the bacteria that form plaque, as they may be difficult to fully clean while brushing and flossing.
Acid produced by these bacteria eats away at the enamel on the tooth leading to decay. Dental sealants are a preventative measure, intended to slow or stop decay in the molars by forming a barrier between any food residue, bacteria and the tooth. The best time to have dental sealants applied is after the adult molars first grow in, typically somewhere around the age of 13.
Due to their positioning and the relative difficulty in cleaning them properly, the molars are the teeth most prone to decay. If decay does set in, you will most likely require a filling.
Before a cavity in a tooth can be filled, a dentist must first remove the decayed material and for a clean surface for the filling to be laced in. This is done with a dental drill. Although the high pitched whine of a drill is definitely unpleasant, having a tooth drilled is rarely painful.
Once the cavity has been drilled, cleaned and dried, the dentist will then fill the hole with appropriate types of fillings. Typically dental fillings will either be dental amalgam or a white filling.
Dental amalgam is a silvery metallic material that used to be frequently used for fillings in molars as they are not readily visible. Amalgam is cheap and hard wearing. White, or tooth coloured fillings are far more common nowadays,
Dental Veneers and Bonding
Both dental veneers and dental bonding are treatments used to restore the appearance and function of a damaged tooth. Bonding refers to the application of a resin coloured to match the tooth. This resin is used to restore the appearance of pits and fissures, cracked, chipped or discoloured teeth. Bonded teeth may discolour or degrade over time, so repeat applications may be necessary.
Veneers are thin layers of porcelain or resin that are adhered to the front of teeth to give them a uniform appearance.
Dental Crowns and Onlays
Crowns and onlays are used to restore function to damage teeth. Crowns are caps that cover the entire tooth, restoring it to full form and function. A crown may be made of a number of different materials depending on the placement and need for aesthetics. A crown may be made of porcelain, porcelain fused to metal or entirely metal.
A dental onlay is a partial crown, only covering part of the tooth. Much like crowns, onlays may be made from a number of different materials depending on the position of the tooth.
Root Canal Therapy
A root canal treatment removes the damaged pulp from a tooth and replaces it with a solid sealant. Once the tooth has been filled with sealand, a new biting surface is created for the tooth, using metal or porcelain depending on the position of the tooth.Root canals are most frequently performed on molars as they are the most likely teeth to suffer decay and pulp damage.
Dental implants are titanium posts that are implanted in the jaw to act as a fitting for artificial teeth. Having dental implants installed will take multiple dental visits, as the procedure required surgery, healing and the creation of a prosthesis to be attached to the implant. Although expensive, dental implants have a high rate of success when it comes to restoring full tooth functionality.
Due to the surgical requirements of the procedure, not all dentists are qualified for dental implantation. If your dentist cannot perform the procedure they will refer you to a practitioner who can.
Although modern dentistry focuses on trying to save natural teeth and restore functionality that way, sometimes teeth must be removed, because of extensive damage or decay, positioning or other reasons. Depending on the difficulty of the removal, the patient will either be given a local or general anaesthetic.
One of the most common forms of extraction is having wisdom teeth removed. These teeth grow far back in the jaw and can cause a number of dental problems if they crowd or butt up against other teeth.
After removal, the socket in the gum may be left open to heal, stitched closed or packed with a gauze-like material.
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Periodontal (Gum) Surgery
People with severe periodontitis may require surgery to help repair damage to the gums, teeth and jaw that may have been caused by the disease. This surgery could involve soft tissue or bone grafts, reshaping of tooth roots, lifting the gums of the teeth to clean the roots of tartar (flap surgery) or removal of damaged gum tissue.
As with dental implants, not all dentists are qualified to perform periodontal surgery, so if it is necessary your dentist will refer you to a specialist to perform the procedure.
Dentures, more commonly known as false teeth, are artificial teeth that replace some or all of your natural teeth. Dentures themselves are made by specialists known as prosthodontists from a mould. Moulds are made for both full and partial dentures.
If the mould is made on the day the teeth are extracted, the fit of dentures may change over time as the jaw heals from the tooth removal, requiring adjustments to the fit. If the mould is made after the jaw has healed, the denture will typically have a better, more long-lasting fit.
Orthodontics are treatments for abnormalities in tooth or jaw position, such as twisted or crooked teeth, over or underbite, or crowded teeth. Depending on the abnormality being corrected, treatment may involve the use of corrective devices such as plates or different types of braces, removable retainers, or in some cases, surgery followed by a corrective device.
Your dentist may be able to perform some orthodontic procedures, but others may require a referral to a specialist orthodontist.
You only get one set of teeth so you should look after them. What’s more, your dental health can have an affect on your overall health , so take care of your teeth and they’ll take care of you.