The Flexible Tooth
During my time in the Air Force, I was called on to identify the remains …via dental x-rays… of 5 crew members of a military transport that had crashed during a training exercise. Following the terrible explosion and fire, the only identifiable remains… were the teeth.
Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the human body. But the fact of the matter is that it is also flexible. Chewing pressures in the mouth can approach 5,000 pounds per square inch. With loads like that, teeth need to have a certain amount of elasticity or they would shatter. They’re sort of built like a golf ball with a hard outer surface that we can whack around pretty hard but with an elastic flexible inner core that absorbs the shocks. They also expand and contract depending on the temperature of the things we put in our mouth. In early thinking, which was flawed, dentists thought the harder the filling material the better. Not so. If we set ceramic tile on a flexible floor it will break. If we set a flexible tile on a flexible floor, it won’t. Flexibility…expansion –contraction…are just a few of the problems that must be solved when repairing our teeth.
The flexible dentist matches the materials used to rebuild the tooth to the amount of load that tooth is going to carry… materials used on the grinding teeth, the molars, need to be stronger than that used on the front teeth. Front teeth also have to be strong too, but hopefully we’re not going to crack walnuts with them. And, of course, they should also resemble TEETH and not Chicklets. So appearance counts.
So how do we rebuild the tooth? There are roofs you can put on your house that will last 50 years. Then again, there are roofs that are designed to last 4 or 5 years. Both roofs will keep the rain out. One just lasts longer and costs more. So it is with the rebuilding of teeth. Like a good architect, your dentist should design the best “roof” you can afford, that will keep the rain out…(preserve the tooth) I’ve seen patients subject their teeth to terrible abuse….from NEVER brushing them…to soaking them in phosphoric acid (carbonated sodas) on a daily basis, teeth being used to crush ice…to open bottle caps…even to strip electrical wire. My heart breaks when I see a 3 year old with all their teeth “rotting” away…because we think baby teeth aren’t important. They’re incredibly important!
So, one size does not fit all. The dentist must also be flexible to design the best treatment within the patient’s budget. Up until a few years ago this meant either a mercury filling or a crown. But nowadays with the new super adhesive technology, synthetic enamel can be chemically fused or bonded …actually incorporated into the tooth’s own natural enamel… making them incredibly strong.
Teeth that once required expensive crowns to survive now can be rebuilt using this adhesive technology. Will it last 20 or 30 years like a gold crown? Probably not, but IT WILL keep the rain out for 5 or 10. Not a bad deal at a fraction of the cost. Of course, the trick is to repair the tooth, while the cavity is small. We now use DIAGNOSTIC LASERS to locate cavities just after they’re born.
These micro- repairs can literally last a lifetime. New technology can even reverse decay…preventing abscesses. Bottom line…NOTHING MAN MADE LASTS FOREVER. Even we humans don’t last forever… and we were created by The Master Builder…”PERMANENT” dentistry is a relative term. Some materials will last longer than others… but eventually we all will require new roofs.
Dr. Bill Ardito – Sunshine Dentistry AZ
855 W. Bell Road, Suite 600 Nogales, AZ 85621
Appeared in February 2011 Nogales International