It's not a secret that acidic foods and drinks are bad for your teeth, and can contribute to the erosion of your dental enamel. So why would your dentist deliberately apply acid to your teeth? There are certain dental procedures that use acid as a way to prepare the surface of a tooth to receive a restoration. If you're soon to have the appearance of your teeth improved with dental bonding or veneers, it's likely that your dentist will first etch your teeth using a special acid (which is typically diluted phosphoric acid). What's the purpose of this preparation?
Not as Flat as It Looks
Although the enamel coating your teeth may appear to be a flat surface—it's not. To be fair, you'd need a microscope to fully notice the surface irregularities of your dental enamel, with its multiple small grooves and fissures. Acid etching for teeth actually deliberately increases these irregularities to make your dental enamel rougher. But isn't this counterproductive for the health of your teeth?
Acid etching is used to increase surface roughness when a dental restoration is applied either directly to the teeth (such as with dental bonding), or manufactured before being applied to the teeth (which is the case with dental veneers). Acid etching purposefully increases the coarseness of your dental enamel, and this helps the restoration to gain more traction once it's bonded into place.
Dissolving a Tooth's Minerals
You may not feel especially comfortable with the idea of having acid applied to your teeth, but the process is quick, painless, and necessary for the long-term prospects of your restoration. First your dentist cleans your teeth to remove any surface debris. The dental enamel of the targeted tooth (or teeth) is then treated with acid. This acid immediately begins to dissolve the minerals present in your dental enamel. Don't worry, because this doesn't hurt.
Covered and Protected
After a few short moments (the acid solution doesn't take long to work), your enamel has been sufficiently dissolved. This is the end of the etching process. Yes, your dental enamel has deteriorated, but this is the goal of the treatment, and your compromised dental enamel isn't an urgent matter, as it will be covered (and protected) by the restoration. Your dental enamel now has considerable roughness, with the surfaces of etched teeth becoming abrasive. This is the optimal condition for having a direct or indirect restoration bonded to your teeth, as your dental enamel's new roughness significantly increases the grip of the bonding agent.
Remember that your dental enamel doesn't have any nerve endings, so at most you'll feel a little sensitivity during the acid etching process (if you feel anything at all). It might seem contrary to common sense to apply acid to teeth, but it's an integral part of the process for many restorations. Think of it as being like sandpapering wood before it can be finished with paint or varnish. Look into a dentist near you for more information.
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