The outside of each tooth is made of enamel, which is extremely hard. Although teeth are strong and difficult to break, trauma (such as a fall) may chip or break them. Tooth decay may severely weaken a tooth, with a high risk that the tooth may fall apart. Root canal treatment, where the pulp of the tooth containing nerves and blood vessels is removed, can also weaken a tooth, especially if it has large fillings. Teeth may also wear down over time. An artificial crown is often the best way to save a tooth and strengthen it. It fits over the prepared existing tooth and replaces the natural crown.
Bridges replace one or more missing teeth. They consist of an artificial tooth anchored to the adjacent natural teeth. If a tooth is lost through an accident, or is too badly decayed to save with a crown, a bridge may be the treatment of choice. You should also ask your dentist or prosthodontist about implants, which are another way of replacing missing teeth.
Crowns and bridges are often made of porcelain and metal alloy. Porcelain is strong and can be made to match the colour of the natural teeth. It is resistant to staining and can be cleaned if it becomes stained.
Metal alloy is used for its strength, hardness, and durability. It is especially useful for molars, which must withstand the forces of grinding and crushing. The gum and cheek tolerate metal alloy and porcelain well. An allergic reaction to metal alloy or porcelain is rare. Teeth have many functions apart from chewing and biting, so missing teeth should be replaced for the following reasons:
• to improve appearance and speech
• to prevent stresses causing damage to other teeth
• to prevent the teeth near the gap from shifting
• to maintain the natural bite
• to improve chewing ability
All general practitioner dentists are qualified to fit crowns and bridges. A dentist with specialist training in crown and bridge work is called a prosthodontist.
Based on your dental and medical history, X-ray examinations of your teeth and jawbone, and an oral examination, your dentist or prosthodontist will recommend the treatment which is best for you. You will require at least two appointments for preparation and fitting of a crown or bridge. Sometimes a tooth will need a root canal filling, and perhaps a post or foundation, before crown or bridge treatment.
Taking an Impression of your Teeth
On your first visit, the dentist or prosthodontist takes an impression of your upper and lower teeth to make a permanent record of their appearance and ensure they fit together. To make an accurate reproduction of your upper and lower teeth, a jaw-shaped tray is filled with a soft gel-like material, pushed onto your teeth, and held in place to set for three to five minutes.
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