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The Rubber Dam Debate


Never underestimate the knowledge and curiosity of the dental patient. Did you know there is a Dental Phobia Support forum called Dental Fear Central? In February 2018, someone asked the forum “Is it bad that my dentist didn’t use a rubber dam on me to do my root canal?” Three out of four respondents said “yes,” but one noted that it’s acceptable “if it is not feasible to place a rubber damn because the tooth is very broken down, then that can be justified.” Other respondents mentioned they’d had root canals done many years ago without rubber dams and experienced no issues whatsoever. If you search the internet and the dental literature, some say not using rubber dams is malpractice, especially when they are considered the standard of care for root canal therapy. Other articles indicate that 53% of general dentists don’t always use rubber dams and 15% never do. Reasons given include difficulty in placing them and time savings.

Rubber dams are important to providing isolation during dental procedures, and to prevent foreign materials from being inhaled or hurting the cheeks while keeping the field dry. Saliva can alter the chemistry of some dental bonding materials, and contaminate root canals during therapy. Rubber dams also help control irritants from contacting soft tissues, aerosols and organic matter (blood, saliva, etc) from splattering, microbial cross contamination during root canal therapy, and eliminates dental mirror fogging. Additionally, retracting the lips and cheeks and keeping the tongue out of the field improves both access and visibility.

Rubber dams are available in various sizes and thicknesses, and in latex, latex-free, scented or unscented, paint-on, and pre-assembled varieties with or without pre-punched holes. Ideally, they should offer both flexibility and tear resistance, and must stand up to the different chemical compounds contained in dental materials. 

Visit the Dental Product Shopper rubber dam category page to read more about the characteristics of various rubber dams or to research certain products.

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