Procedures for Correcting Common Dental Problems

Instructor: Jennifer Nemeth

Jennifer is a Registered Nurse with experience in Med/Surg, Orthopedics and Neurology. She also holds a B.A.

Many things can happen to your teeth, even with the best preventative care. In this lesson, learn about the methods for preventing and treating the most common dental problems.

Anatomy of a Tooth

That ice cream on a hot summer's day was certainly refreshing - until you felt the sudden pain in your tooth from the cold. Riding that skateboard seemed like a fun thing to do, but now you've crashed and your front tooth is broken in half. These are scenarios that dentists see every day in their offices. In this lesson, we will cover the most typical dental issues and how to treat and prevent them.

To understand average dental problems and solutions, let's first look at the basic structure of the adult tooth. The part of the tooth that you see when you smile or open your mouth is referred to as the crown. Just like a tree or a plant, the root is the portion that is below the gum that you cannot see. The crown of the tooth is protected by a very durable calcified material known as enamel. Below the enamel is another hard material referred to as dentine. As its name implies, cementum is a tough substance that protects the root and helps it adhere to the gum. The nerves and blood vessels present in each tooth help keep the tooth alive and are found in the soft tissue called pulp.

Anatomy of a Tooth
Tooth Structure

Cavities and How to Fix Them

One of the most commonly encountered dental problems is a cavity. A cavity is decay caused when there is damage to the enamel. The culprit is bacteria found in a tacky substance that builds up on teeth, called plaque. The job of the bacteria in plaque is to convert sugars in your diet to acid. That acid, in turn, destroys the tough shield of enamel, causing a cavity. Have you ever soaked an egg in vinegar? That softening of the eggshell is much like the breakdown of tooth enamel triggered by acid.

Cavities caught early can be repaired by a dentist through a filling. Filling the tooth starts with removing the decayed area of the tooth with a small drill. The hole is then filled by either amalgam (comprised of various metals, such as silver and mercury), composite (a white filling consisting of glass and quartz; it is not as durable as amalgam and therefore not often used in larger fillings), or gold (a more expensive yet resilient option).

Example of Amalgam Fillings
Picture of an amalgam filling

Root Canals and Crowns

Sometimes tooth decay or tooth injury is so extensive that it reaches the pulp and affects the nerve of the tooth, causing severe pain and/or sensitivity to temperature. When this happens, the dentist or endodontist (a dentist who specializes in dental pulp), will perform a root canal.

During a root canal, the pulp of the tooth is removed and then replaced with a special type of filling material. Often after a root canal procedure, the dentist will recommend a crown.

A crown is a covering for the tooth that can help protect it from breaking. They can be made with all porcelain or ceramic (usually for front teeth), porcelain material over metal, or out of gold or base metal alloys. Crowns are used when a tooth needs protection because it has a sizable filling, has been subject to a root canal, is broken or is weakened from other factors.

Bridges, Implants and Dentures

Unfortunately sometimes, even with the best preventative care and treatment, a tooth may need to be pulled, or extracted. If this happens, there are several different restorative options so that you don't have to walk through life looking like a jack-o-lantern.

A bridge fills the space of the missing tooth or teeth with a prosthetic tooth that connects to the teeth on either side of the space. Some are made to be removed and others are cemented into place. The bridge can be attached to the healthy teeth on either side with metal clasps or by crowns on either side of the prosthetic tooth or teeth.

Removable Bridge
Removable Bridge

In the event that all the teeth must be extracted, the patient can be fitted with a full denture. Patients can have upper or lower dentures or both. Dentures are removable and should be cleaned regularly just like real teeth to preserve gum health.

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