A dental restoration or dental filling is a dental restorative material used to restore the function, integrity and morphology of missing tooth structure. The structural loss typically results from caries or external trauma. It is also lost intentionally during tooth preparation to improve the aesthetics or the physical integrity of the intended restorative material. Dental restoration also refers to the replacement of missing tooth structure that is supported by dental implants.
Dental restorations can be divided into two broad types: direct restorations and indirect restorations. All dental restorations can be further classified by their location and size. A root canal filling is a restorative technique used to fill the space where the dental pulp normally resides.
Restoring a tooth to good form and function requires two steps, preparing the tooth for placement of restorative material or materials, and placement of restorative material or materials.
Oral surgeons may one day have an easier, less costly approach to one important aspect of dental restoration, thanks to a newly patented process developed by researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T).
The process computerizes the method for creating a dental bar, also called an over-denture. For dental restoration procedures, the device is the bridge connecting dental implants to dentures.
The computerized approach was developed by Dr. Ming Leu, the Keith and Pat Bailey Missouri Distinguished Professor of Integrated Product Manufacturing at Missouri S&T, and one of Leu's former students, Amit Gawate, who received a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Missouri S&T in 2005. Leu and Gawate were recently awarded a patent for their process.
Typically, a dental technician creates the device through a laborious manual process that involves molding and casting. But Leu's approach is entirely digital and automated.
"This method can reduce the cost as well as the time involved" in fabricating dental bars, Leu says.
The conventional approach involves first making an impression of the area of the mouth where a denture would be placed, then casting a model of the gums and implants. From there, technicians design and fabricate the dental bar from a metal material.
Rather than making a physical model, Leu's process uses digital imaging technology to take a picture of a patient's mouth. From there, computer algorithms developed by Leu and Gawate crunch the image data to create a computer-aided design model of the actual dental bar. That model can then be fabricated using either an "additive manufacturing" or a computer-numerically controlled (CNC) machining process.