Your Dentist, the Construction Worker

***Originally published at***


My brother, who lives out-of-state, called me this morning rather upset about his dental appointment. He said, “They told me at my cleaning that it was going to be a ML or DM or something like that and then when I was numb, the dentist said that he was wrong and now it’s something different. How can he not know that? How can he just change it like that?”

First, I explained what all the letters meant – we’ll address that in a future blog – and then I explained his dental decay in construction terms, something he is very familiar with. So, for those of you who like it broken down, here it is:

Your tooth has two layers, enamel and dentin. Think of enamel as sheetrock and dentin as the insulation layer underneath. The sheetrock is pretty hard, and you have to use a hammer and nail to break through it. Once you’re in, though, you can just wiggle your little finger around and mess up the insulation layer pretty quick. Your little finger can easily cause a whole lot of damage through that tiny hole from the nail. If you want to repair the damage, you can’t just stuff a rolled-up ball of insulation through the hole and hope that it plugs everything up right. You have to widen the hole in the sheetrock to see exactly how much damage was done to the insulation underneath, and then you have to pack in the correct amount of sheetrock to fill the gap. Then, you seal the hole and smooth everything off with a fresh coat of paint.

In your mouth, the situation is similar. The bacteria have a fight to get through the hard enamel layer of your teeth, but once they’re in, they have free roam inside the soft dentin. Although the black spot you can see on the top of your tooth looks small, the decay underneath may have already spread to a quite larger area. When you have an appointment to fix your tooth, your dentist needs to extend the hole in the enamel of your tooth in order to remove all of the bacteria and decay from your tooth. Sometimes in extending the hole in your tooth, your dentist will have to touch an additional surface of your tooth – the front, the back, the tongue- or cheek-side. Then, your dentist places the composite filling, adjusts the margins, and smooths everything off.

I think that helped my brother understand how treatment can change, and I hope it helps you too!


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