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Why Your Dentist Might Use A Rubber Dam

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Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications

The human mouth contains around 500 to 1,000 different types of bacteria! So it's no surprise that no matter how thoroughly you clean your teeth and mouth, some bacteria always remain. Usually, this is no problem at all. But if you're undergoing a dental treatment that may expose your teeth' interior, the bacteria could invade the open area. No worries, though! Your dentist has a handy tool that helps prevent infection. It's called a rubber dam.

If your dentist recommends using a rubber dam during your dental procedure, know that it helps protect you from infection when receiving dental treatment. Although the sensation might feel strange or uncomfortable, dental dams are safe. What is a rubber dam? We'll tell you all about them, why they're used, as well as the benefits and obstacles of use. Okay - let's dive in.

What Are Rubber Dams?

A rubber dam — also known as a dental dam — is a thin square sheet used to isolate the operative site from the rest of the mouth. Dental rubber dams contain a hole in the middle that allows the dentist to isolate the treatment area using a dental clamp around the tooth. Dental 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

Dental dams are mainly used in endodontic procedures, prosthodontics (crowns and bridges), veneer placements, and other restorative treatments. Dental practitioners vary greatly in their use of the dental dam. Some practitioners use them frequently. For others, they are only applied during selective treatments, whereas many choose not to use them at all.

Endodontists tend to favor the use of dental dams. Their work involves focusing on the soft tissue inside the teeth, called the pulp. The American Association of Endodontists (AAE) states that tooth isolation with a dental dam is an important technique that helps maintain high standards of care during any non-surgical procedure. A root canal is a common non-surgical procedure for extracting infected tooth pulp, where a dental dam is often used.

Advantages of Dental Dams

As we know, the primary reason dental professionals use a dental dam is to stop oral bacteria from entering the exposed area inside the tooth and contaminating the root chamber. 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. It also prevents ingestion or aspiration of dental materials and instruments, as the AAE lays out.

Obstacles to Use

Even though the dental dam can be a great tool for certain procedures, there are some obstacles to using them. Some dental professionals feel reluctant to use dental dams because their placement can be difficult. They also require extra time and money. And some dentists don't have the proper training to use them. Other dentists report that people are not comfortable wearing them.

According to a study presented in Clinical and Experimental Dental Research, the best way to make people feel more comfortable with the dental dam is for dentists to apply them more frequently to become better at using them. The study also notes that many reasons for not using the dental dam are based on myths rather than experience or evidence.

Now you know what dental dams are all about and hopefully feel more comfortable if your dentist pulls one out for a procedure. Remember that even though they may look and feel funny, they're completely safe. Whether you need a root canal, crown, bridge, or a veneer placement, a dental dam will help ensure that bacteria stay away from the opened area. They'll also help your dentist focus and ensure that you don't ingest something unwanted in the process. Next time you're with the dentist, and they whip out a dental dam, you'll know what they're about. So have no fear! And if you have questions or feel uncomfortable, connect with your dentist right away.

Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider. 

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