It is the primary job for a dental assistant to actually assist the dentist, but that is only a small part of the job. Taking care of patients’ needs, emotional and dental, is the biggest. A dental assistant is an unofficial “sugar coater,” turning everything bad into good. When the dentist steps into a room and mentions “rubber dam,” it may be the first time the patient has ever heard those words. Rubber dams tend to look a little intimidating, and a National Institute of Health study showed 53-63% of general dentists are not even using them. So what is this thing and why does Dr. Cunningham want to use it?
The first definition that Google will show you for rubber dam, is from the reliable, Wikipedia. It states that a rubber dam “is a thin, rectangular sheet made of latex rubber, used in dentistry to isolate the operative site from the rest of the mouth”. Its purpose is to prevent salvia interfering with dental work and prevent instruments and materials from being swallowed. This happens to be true, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.
The benefits and pros of using a rubber dam are far more important than the cons some dentists use for their excuse to not use them. The placement of a rubber dam adds about one extra minute or less to chair time, possibly influencing dentists to not use them. A dental assistant could get a jump start on placing the rubber dam before the dentist walks into the room, but most have patient comfort in mind, and wait until the last minute before this isolation. When discussing dental dam placement, a professor from the University of Michigan said, “In my experience, the only assistants who put on rubber dams well are those who work with dentists who put on rubber dams well. Unless a dentist knows how easy it is to put one on, it is unlikely that he will teach a dental assistant to put one on well and quickly.” At Cunningham Dental, Dr. Cunningham and the assistants are comfortable and confident in placing rubber dams that produce successful restorative work. Rubber dams will make life easier for everyone, allowing the dentist to work fast and efficient.
Studies from Indiana University School of Dentistry found that using a rubber dam reduces microbial contamination at the primary source, 70-99%. Removing unwanted bacteria from the picture provides a perfect environment for a successful restoration. The restorations that Dr. Cunningham places, with the use of a rubber dam, outlast others that may have been compromised by poor isolation techniques. It is extremely rare for these fillings to fail, come out, or cause sensitivity.
Some patients feel a little anxious about using the rubber dam or have questions about breathing when it is in place. This barrier DOES NOT seal your mouth closed. There is actually room around the edges where mouth breathers can still breathe comfortably. Patients with a strong gag reflex have found it is much easier to sit through appointments using the dam, because it helps to speed things up and reduces the amount of water they have in their mouths. It also helps to keep any bad tasting materials out of your mouth, and let’s be honest, we use a lot of bad tasting stuff. When patients return for treatment of other areas, they expect the use of the rubber dam and will admit it made things a lot more comfortable.
When you arrive at your next appointment for a filling or root canal with Dr. Cunningham, you can expect to see a rubber dam out and ready for use. If your previous dentist did not use a rubber dam, maybe the questions should be directed their way as to why not!
Beth – Assistant at Cunningham Dental