Gutta Percha: What Is It and When Is It Used?

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What is It?

If you polled folks to name the first dental procedures that come to mind, they might say fillings, crowns and root canals. Of those three, a root canal is the treatment people might know the least about unless they've been unlucky enough to have one. Even those who have had a successful root canal might not have heard of gutta percha: a substance used during the procedure.

How It's Used

When a tooth is infected or badly damaged, there are two options: repair and save it or remove it. A root canal accomplishes the former. The damaged area of the tooth, known as the pulp, which is disease is then removed. The tooth root canals are cleaned out and disinfected prior to being filled and sealed. Gutta percha is the material used to fill the tooth. It is a thermoplastic filling material that is heated and compressed into the canal(s) of the tooth which is then sealed with an adhesive cement. The gutta percha is a plastic substance that comes from several Malaysian trees and is used as a permanent filling in root canals, according to Merriam-Webster.

Side Effects

Gutta percha was once believed to cause allergic reactions similar to natural rubber latex given the close chemical similarity between the two substances. However, the American Association of Endodontists' position is that no cross-reactivity between them exists based on results from multiple studies and a lack of reported cases.

Pros and Cons

A study published by Clinical Oral Investigations compared obturation methods for root canals with an extreme curve. Four different methods were used on 48 extracted human teeth. The results showed that the lateral compaction method is fast and efficient for curved canals.

Unfortunately, there are some disadvantages associated with gutta percha.

The Journal of Dentistry of Tehran University of Medical Sciences highlights a study that details an inability to bind with canal walls during restoration with a quartz fiber post. Root canals filled with a different substance proved to be more resistant to root fractures and bacterial leakage.

Detecting a vertical root fracture is more difficult when the root has been previously filled with gutta percha than in roots without it. The International Endodontic Journal (IEJ) published a study about researchers who used digital radiography (DR), multidetector computed tomography (MDCT) and cone beam computed tomography (CBCT). The results showed a similar success rate for all three screening methods in roots without it while results varied in roots with it.

Another study published by IEJ compared different methods for removing the material from root canals. The techniques used were two Ni-Ti systems and hand filing. Results showed that the Ni-Ti systems were both faster than a hand file; however, remnants of the gutta percha material were left behind by each of the three methods.

Everyday Oral Care

Ideally, you want to keep your teeth healthy enough to avoid needing a root canal. A good foundation for proper mouth health is brushing at least twice a day complemented by regular flossing. If you've previously had a root canal and suffer from tooth sensitivity due to the procedure, brush with Colgate Sensitive Whitening toothpaste. It helps relieve the pain associated with sensitive teeth and helps restore the natural whiteness of your teeth. Lastly, don't forget to schedule regular cleanings with your dentist or dental hygienist to keep your mouth healthy and clean.