Before your dentist starts work on a root canal treatment, he or she will normally attach a thin sheet of rubber (a rubber dam) around the tooth. While the dam generally feels strange in your mouth, the sensation is not painful, and your dentist will always reassure you that the dam makes the treatment process easier. Find out why rubber dams make it easier to carry out a root canal treatment, and learn why dentists always recommend these devices to their patients.
Protects the patient
To remove infected or damaged pulp from inside your tooth, a dentist must use several tiny instruments. While he or she will take extreme care during the procedure, patients can still accidentally inhale these objects. Once a patient inhales one of these tiny instruments, it's often difficult to get access to the airway to remove the object, as this image shows.
A rubber dam mitigates this risk by creating a physical barrier in the patient's mouth. If the dentist drops or breaks an endodontic instrument, any pieces will land on the rubber dam. The rubber dam also protects the patient from the harmful chemicals the dentist uses during the procedure. For example, the dentist uses disinfectant to clean out the root canal, which could cause illness if swallowed.
Speeds up the process
Once the rubber dam is in place, it's much easier for the dentist and his or her nurse to work on the patient. The dam is relatively comfortable to wear, so you don't need to keep moving your jaws and getting in the dentist's way. A rubber dam also makes it harder for the patient to speak, so the dentist can work without interruptions!
The dam also stops your tongue getting in the way. With your tongue out of reach, your dentist can use a drill more easily, which cuts down on the time it takes to finish the root canal treatment.
Improves visibility for the dentist
A rubber dam makes it easier for the dentist to see the tooth (or teeth) he or she is working on. The rubber sheet contrasts with the color of your tooth, and makes it easier for your dentist to visualize what he or she needs to do. Clamps hold the dam firmly in place, so the dentist's view doesn't change until he or she is ready to take the rubber sheet out of your mouth.
Keeps bacteria out of the root canal
A successful root canal treatment will remove all diseased pulp from inside the tooth, and it's very important to make sure no other germs get in the canal during the procedure. A rubber dam helps your dentist keep the area around the tooth sterile during your root canal treatment.
With the dam in place, blood and saliva cannot get to the tooth. What's more, bacteria in the mouth cannot get into the root canal while your dentist is removing the pulp. This protection greatly lowers the risk of further infection and increases the likelihood of success.
Protects the dentist from germs
It's not just the patient who is at risk of bacterial infection during a root canal treatment. While your dentist is working on your tooth, your mouth can cause a secondary infection in other people. For example, when the dentist drills into the tooth, tiny particles create a fine spray, which may land on the dentist's face. A rubber dam cuts the risk that germs from your wound will spread.
A 1989 study found that dental dams cut the risk of secondary infection by as much as 98 per cent. This protection extends to other patients, too. Germs from other people's treatment may settle on surfaces in the surgery, but a rubber dam acts as a physical barrier and stops these bacteria spreading.
If you're having a root canal treatment, you may wonder why a dentist, like Joe Rosenberg, DDS, insists on using a rubber dam. These simple devices can make the process easier for your dentist, and cut the risk of infection to you and everyone around you. As such, it's easy to see why these devices are now an intrinsic part of this treatment.