No matter how thoroughly you clean your teeth and mouth, some bacteria always remain. Usually, this isn't a problem, but if you're receiving dental treatment that exposes the interior of your tooth, the bacteria could invade the exposed area. Your dentist can help prevent an infection by isolating the tooth under treatment with a dental tool known as a rubber dam.
What Are Rubber Dams?
A rubber dam — also called a dental dam — is a protective sheet with a hole that a dental professional positions over a tooth during an endodontic procedure, according to the American Association of Endodontists (AAE). The hole allows the dentist to isolate the treatment area with a dental clamp around the tooth. The dental sheet is placed around the dental clamp and then a u-shaped device is hooked around the dental clamp. This isolates the single tooth where dental treatment will be conducted. Dams are usually made of latex, but there are also non-latex alternatives that dentists can use for any patient with a latex allergy.
Dental Procedures That Require a Dam
Endodontists specialize in dental procedures that involve the soft tissue inside the teeth, called pulp. The AAE states that tooth isolation with a dental dam is an important endodontic technique that helps maintain high standards of care during any non-surgical procedure.
Your dentist or endodontist may use a rubber dam during a root canal, which is a common non-surgical procedure for extracting infected tooth pulp. Dentists may also need to use a dam to isolate a tooth in other procedures, such as tooth restorations, according to The University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics
Advantages of Dental Dams
The primary reason for using a dental dam is to stop oral bacteria from entering the exposed area inside the tooth and potentially contaminating the root chamber, according to the AAE. The latex sheet also allows the dentist to concentrate on the tooth by isolating it from the rest of the teeth and providing a clean work area. A study in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research states that dental dams help prevent saliva and blood from entering into the area during treatment. They also protect patients from accidentally swallowing irrigation fluid or debris from the tooth being treatment.
Obstacles to Use
The downsides to using rubber dams are practical and psychological. According to the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research study, some dental professionals report that they are reluctant to use dams due to the added time and cost, their lack of training around this dental tool and because they believe patients feel uncomfortable with the sheet in their mouth. Another study in The Scientific World Journal mentions that dental professionals may have difficulty placing the clamp that holds the dam in place, especially when a significant portion of the tooth structure is missing.
If your dentist recommends using a rubber dam during your dental procedure, know that it helps protect you from infection when you're receiving dental treatment and allows your dentist to provide the best treatment. Although the sensation might feel strange or uncomfortable, the dam is not dangerous. If you have concerns about your dentist using a dental dam during your treatment, speak to them beforehand to address your concerns.