Dental surgery and related dental procedures are often feared to be painful experiences that can be avoided by attending to your dental needs. However dental surgery and related procedures are essential for :

  • Maintaining the health and integrity of your teeth, gum and mouth.
  • Restoring functioning of your teeth
  • Preventing serious complications in the future.
  • Improving the cosmetic appearance of the teeth and mouth.

Understanding dental procedures often helps allay unrealistic fears surrounding dental surgery. Advances in pharmaceuticals, anesthesia, investigative and therapeutic techniques means that your dental procedure should be fairly painless and quick in the hands of a skilled dentist, periodontist or orthodontist.

What is a tooth cavity?

A tooth cavity is the destruction of the tooth structure due to lactic acid produced by bacteria in the mouth. Chipping and fractures of the tooth cause further damage to tooth structure. Cavities provide an ideal environment to trap food and allow bacteria to thrive while destroying greater portions of the tooth enamel (outer layer) and dentin (inner layer). Left unattended, the cavity will completely erode the tooth, cause a toothache or jaw pain or even complicate to form dental abscesses in the surrounding area.

What is a tooth filling?

A dental filling (tooth filling) is the restorative process to repair tooth cavities or other damage to the tooth surface. After removing decayed tooth material, the remaining cavity is filled with restorative materials like gold, silver amalgam , porcelain, plastic or glass composite materials. The filling restores tooth structure, protects the tooth from further degradation and returns normal tooth function for biting and chewing.

If the tooth decay or damage is severe, a filling may not suffice and other dental procedures may be required.

What is a dental crown?

In severe cases of tooth decay and damage, removal of decayed material may not allow for a suitable dental filling to maintain the integrity of the remaining tooth structure or restore tooth function. In these cases, the tooth structure may have to be “capped” with a dental crown. Dental crowns or dental “caps” are made of various hardy materials and encase the remaining tooth structure.

Advances in dental technology allow for a range of cosmetic features to be applied to a dental crown (aesthetic dentistry). In cases where a dental crown is not required but chosen for cosmetic reasons, a dental veneer may be used. Dental veneers do not encase the entire tooth like a dental crown but rather cover the front of the tooth (the surface of the tooth facing out).

What is a root canal?

A ‘root canal‘ (endodontic therapy) is necessary in cases where the cavity extends to the pulp (innermost layer) of the tooth. When the pulp becomes infected, a ‘root canal’ will assist with reducing pain (toothache) and prevent complications like a dental abscess. More importantly, a ‘root canal’ allows for the tooth to be retained thereby preventing the need for costly aesthetic dentistry like dental bridges or implants.

A ‘root canal’ involves removal of the tooth pulp and nerve along with any decayed parts of the tooth structure. Upon completion, the inner parts of the tooth is filled with a sealant and  rubber compound called gutta percha and the outer tooth is restored with a regular filling.

What is a dental extraction?

Extreme cases of tooth decay, fractures or “chips” where the remaining healthy tooth structure cannot be retained will require a tooth extraction. If a tooth cannot be retained even after a root canal, a tooth extraction (exodontia) may be the only viable alternative to maintain the health and integrity of surrounding teeth and preventing dental complications.

Periodontal disease affecting the gum or bone around the affected tooth may mean that the tooth will not have a firm foundation in the mouth and extraction of the entire tooth  is warranted.

What is a dental bridge?

If a tooth or teeth are absent, either due to a dental extraction or lost during trauma to the mouth,  a dental bridge may be necessary. A missing tooth creates a “gap” that can prevent proper biting or chewing on the affected side and over time, the other teeth may drift apart creating further dental complications. A dental bridge is essentially a fixed partial denture which has both a cosmetic purpose as well as functional purpose.

The teeth on either side of the “gap”, the abutment teeth, are “capped” with dental crowns while the gap is filled with a false tooth similar to those found on dentures. This is known as a traditional bridge.  This arrangement allows the bridge to anchor within the existing structure and the false tooth now has full functionality as in a regular tooth.

There a other types of dental bridges and your options are dependent upon the integrity of the abutment teeth and other contributing factors which your dental specialist will advise you upon.

What is a dental implant?

A dental implant is the replacement of a tooth or group of teeth by fixing the artificial tooth into the bone and surrounding gum. A dental implant is a more permanent option to a dental bridge and restores functionality to the affected area without affecting adjacent teeth that are healthy. Titanium ‘screws’ are inserted into the underlying gum and bone to provide an an anchor for the prosthesis.

Dental implants have become a more popular choice in cases where several teeth are affected or in those with dentures as it offers a more comfortable and durable option.

What will dental procedures cost?

Dental procedures involving restorative or reconstructive work is fairly expensive even in developing nations. The cost can be staggering and affect any household budget especially in a dental emergency. A dental plan would assist with reducing the cost of certain procedures but a dental bridge and implant may not be covered under certain plans.

Most dental procedures are essential beyond just the aesthetic factor and it is best to maintain good dental hygiene with regular professional care to avoid complications that may warrant surgical procedures. Once damaged, tooth material can be restored artificially by restorative materials, crowns, bridges and implants but can never regenerate.


Article reviewed by Dr. Greg. Last updated on April 12, 2011