Nearly all Americans will experience some form of tooth decay in their lifetimes. Untreated tooth decay progressively erodes the infected tooth and causes more serious problems. Since bacteria cause tooth decay, forgoing treatment risks spread to neighboring teeth, multiplying dental health issues. It is very important to remove the decay, clean the area, and restore the tooth with a filling.
To ensure overall oral health, missing or damaged teeth need to be replaced or restored by a licensed dentist.
A dentist applies composite fillings after tooth decay has been removed and the remaining tooth is cleaned. Instead of traditional silver fillings, composite fillings consist of a clear crystalline substance that is applied in layers and hardened with extremely bright light. Composite fillings offer several advantages:
• They look better than traditional fillings
• Their application is less intensive, which reduces the risk of tooth fracture
• Composite fillings bond directly to the tooth surface
• They are environmentally friendly; they contain no mercury
Crowns, or 'caps', are used for restoring severely decayed or fractured teeth. First, your dentist removes the damaged portion of the tooth. Then, a unique mold is taken and used to manufacture a crown out of gold or porcelain to fit the remaining healthy tooth perfectly. The crown is then fixed into place with special cement. Crowns provide the following benefits:
• They restore the tooth's original shape and size
• They help prevent decay from forming on the underlying tooth
• They add strength to the tooth's structure
• They are very durable
Crowns help prevent the need for root canals and tooth extraction by reducing the risk of tooth fracture and tooth decay.
Bridges serve to replace one or more missing teeth. First, the teeth on either side of the missing tooth are prepared to receive crowns by a dentist. Then, a false tooth is attached between the two crowns. Once the crown-false tooth-crown combination is cemented into place, it 'bridges' the gap left by the missing tooth. Bridges offer several benefits:
• They look like new teeth
• They are a permanent, durable mouth fixture
• They prevent surrounding teeth from shifting to fill the gap
• They restore a more natural bite and chewing ability
For these reasons, bridges are a good investment compared to dentures. If a bridge is not possible, or the adjacent teeth don't need crowns, dental implants may be the best alternative.
In cases of severe damage or decay, the tooth's soft interior (housing the nerves and blood supply) may need to be removed. Root canals replace the infected interior –or 'pulp'- with a rubber-like substance that fills and seals the interior once it has been emptied. Following a root canal, the tooth must be crowned to prevent fracture. Root canal advantages include:
• Preventing tooth death and the need for extraction
• Relieving pain associated with tooth pulp infection
• Reducing discomfort caused by hot or cold liquids
• Stopping infection from spreading
A root canal can help prevent future tooth extraction and the need for more expensive bridge or tooth implant procedures.
Implants permanently replace missing teeth by surgical attachment to the jawbone. After the dental implant is installed, the dentist will attach an artificial tooth, effectively replacing the missing tooth. Because of required healing time, there is a delay between the implant surgery and the attachment of the artificial tooth. Dental implants provide several advantages over dentures and less permanent tooth replacement solutions:
• They are very durable, nearly undetectable, and the closest thing to real teeth
• They help prevent teeth from shifting to fill gaps
• They improve bite and chewing ability
• They prevent associated jaw joint issues
• They reduce the sunken look caused by missing teeth
• They can be used to anchor a bridge to natural teeth
While implants are more expensive than bridges and dentures, the long-term health benefits and a natural looking smile make them a smart long-term investment.