A dental dam is a square piece of latex (or latex-free) rubber. It is placed over a patient’s mouth and has holes punched in it to allow the teeth to stick out through the holes. A metal clamp secures the dam on the teeth.
The purpose of the dam is to isolate the tooth being worked on. It allows the area to remain dry and prevents contamination from bacteria in saliva and blood. The newer composite (tooth colored) fillings require that the bonding agent be applied in a dry environment for maximum bonding. The dam also protects the patient from swallowing or aspirating any foreign objects, pieces of filling, etc.
Fillings usually can be done in a shorter period of time with a dam in place because the tongue, lips, and cheeks are retracted. It is mandatory that rubber dams are used when any endodontic (root canal) procedure is done.
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