You may have heard the term “minimally invasive.” In medicine, it usually refers to procedures that minimize damage to tissue. In dentistry, “minimally invasive” has a similar meaning. Dentists who use these methods try to save as much of the natural tooth as possible when repairing a problem, such as tooth decay.
Here are some examples of methods that dentists can use to spare your teeth:
Remineralization. This is a process that helps rebuild damaged tooth enamel in the early stages of tooth decay by using minerals, such as fluoride. This can help prevent tooth decay from progressing into a full cavity that needs a filling. Remineralization may include the use of toothpaste, rinses, and other dental products with fluoride, calcium, and phosphate.
Stimulating the saliva is also helpful in the remineralization process because saliva contains the minerals calcium and phosphate as well as residual fluoride from toothpaste, fluoridated drinking water or fluoride rinses. The tooth needs these minerals to repair early damage by bacterial acids. Chewing sugar-free gum can help stimulate salivary flow.
Inlays and onlays. These are alternatives to crowns, which cover the entire chewing surface and sides of a damaged tooth. Unlike crowns, inlays and onlays do not require a dentist to remove as much of your natural tooth. An inlay is smaller than a crown and fits in the “contours” of a tooth. An inlay may not be suitable if a large portion of the tooth needs to be restored. An onlay is larger than an inlay. It usually covers most of the chewing surface on a tooth but not all of the sides. It takes time for the dentist to fit an inlay or onlay to your teeth, so treatment may require two or more trips to the dentist.
Sealants. These plastic barriers help protect teeth against damaging acid from bacterial plaque. They are “painted” on and bonded to the biting surfaces of the back teeth and don’t require any cutting into the tooth. Sealants can help protect vulnerable areas of teeth. This includes the fissures or grooves of the chewing areas of back teeth, or molars, that can trap food and bacterial plaque.
“Maintaining the Integrity of the Enamel Surface: The Role of Dental Biofilm, Saliva, and Preventive Agents in Enamel Demineralization and Remineralization.” F. Garcia-Godoy and M.J. Hicks. Journal of the American Dental Association. May 2008, vol. 139, pp. 25S-34S. Abstract at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18460677Accessed 2013.
“Amalgam Silver-Colored Dental Fillings." Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/a/Amalgam.aspx Accessed 2013.
“Sealants.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/s/sealants.aspx Accessed 2013.
“Products—Old, New, and Emerging.” V.W. Spolsky et al. CDA Journal. October 2007, vol. 35, no. 10. Abstract at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18044380. Accessed 2013.
“What Is Minimally Invasive Dentistry?” Academy of General Dentistry, January 2012. www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=M&iid=713&aid=3812 Accessed 2013.