As the old saying goes, you do not get a second chance to make a first impression. So it pays to ensure that your teeth are always in tip-top condition so that they will be a credit to you.
Teeth that are chipped, cracked, decayed or separated by gaps can significantly detract from your smile and overall appearance.
In the old days when someone had a serious dental problem, the panacea for their woes was to have all their teeth extracted and make do with dentures for the rest of their lives. But these days there are far more sophisticated dental procedures and treatments available.
Therapeutic dentistry includes the prophylactic treatment of caries, also known as cavities, the treatment of injuries that have damaged your teeth such as chips and cracks, the treatment of root canals and changing the shape and alignment of your teeth.
Firstly, let us deal with caries. The days when someone opened his or her mouth to reveal fillings that looked as if someone had just taken a bite out of a sheet of metal are also long gone. Today, composite fillings are far more common.
Not only do they restore the strength and health of your teeth but they also maintain the natural appearance as they can be matched to the colour of your teeth. Also, because they do not contain mercury, which was used heavily in days gone by, they are also a far safer alternative.
Porcelain veneers have become all the rage in the United States and Europe and are becoming more popular in South Africa too. A veneer is a thin layer of restorative material placed over a tooth surface either to improve the aesthetics or to protect a damaged tooth's surface. However, this cosmetic procedure is still very expensive and requires several visits to a dental specialist.
For those patients on a more conservative budget, an alternative is dental bonding. This procedure is used to cover imperfections and aesthetic flaws and to restore the health and beauty of teeth.
Unlike veneers, dental bonding is not a drawn-out procedure. It begins by etching the surface of the tooth to be treated. Then the bonding material is applied and sculpted into the desired shape. The bonding material is then matched to the natural colour of the surrounding teeth, so that the treated teeth will blend in perfectly.
Once shaped, the material is hardened using a special light and then smoothed and polished for a natural-looking appearance.
Another important branch of therapeutic dentistry is root canal treatment. This procedure is used to treat pulpitis, an extremely painful condition in which the dental pulp inside a tooth becomes inflamed. Pulpitis usually makes its presence felt when you eat something very cold or very hot.
The treatment is also used to treat periodontitis, which occurs when inflammation or infection of the gums is left untreated. Infection and inflammation spread from the gums to the ligaments and bone that support the teeth. Loss of support causes the teeth to become loose and eventually fall out.
The procedure requires the pulp in the affected teeth to be cleaned out, the space made sterile and then filled. Because the teeth become pulp-less, it is imperative that the procedure is impeccably performed to ensure a long and healthy life for the teeth.
Over the past few decades, advancements in dental procedures and therapies have made massive strides.
The days when a tooth was deemed a "lost cause" have long gone - as are the days when the dentist had little option but to reach for pliers to make an extraction. Whether they have been damaged or have decayed, teeth can be repaired and made to look perfect. And having a perfect set of teeth is enough to make anyone smile.
"Therapeutic dental procedures" will be the topic of Bonitas House Call on January 21 at 9am on SABC2
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