Mobility of teeth has many causes, including traumatic injury to the face, advanced periodontal disease, habits such as thumb sucking and tongue thrusting, and malocclusion. In addition, teeth often need stabilization and retention after orthodontic treatment. In the past, clinical procedures for the stabilization of teeth either involved extensive loss of the tooth structure or were poor in appearance. A conservative and esthetic alternative has been made possible by using acid-etched, resin-bonded splints.
Certain criteria must be met when mobile teeth are splinted. Occlusal adjustment may be necessary initially. The splint should have a hygienic design so that the patient is able to maintain good oral hygiene. It also should allow further diagnostic procedures and treatment, if necessary. The acid-etched, resin-bonded splinting technique satisfies these criteria. Light-cured composites are recommended for splinting because they afford extended working time for placement and contouring.
Loss of bone support allows movement of teeth, resulting in increased irritation to the supporting tissues and possible malpositioning of teeth. Stabilizing mobile teeth is a valuable treatment aid before, during, and after periodontal therapy. Splinting of teeth aids in occlusal adjustment and tissue healing, thus allowing better evaluation of the progression and prognosis of treatment.
A resin-bonded splint via the acid-etch technique is a conservative and effective method of protecting teeth from further injury by stabilizing them in a favorable occlusal relationship. If the periodontal problem is complicated by missing teeth, a bridge incorporating a splint design is indicated (see the section on conservative bridges).
In short-span segments subject to minimal occlusal forces, a relatively simple technique can be used for splinting periodontally involved teeth. Online Figure 21-1, A, illustrates a maxillary lateral incisor that remains mobile because of insufficient bone support even after occlusal adjustment and elimination of a periodontal pocket. Esthetic recontouring with composite augmentation can be accomplished along with the splinting procedure.
Anesthesia generally is not required for a splinting procedure when enamel covers the clinical crown. When root surfaces are exposed and extreme sensitivity exists, however, local anesthesia is necessary. Teeth are cleaned with a pumice slurry, and the shade of light-cured composite is selected. A cotton roll and retraction cords are used for isolation in this instance.
With a coarse, flame-shaped diamond instrument, enamel on both teeth at the proximal contact area is reduced to produce an interdental space approximately 0.5 mm wide. This amount of space enhances the strength of the splint by providing more bulk of composite material in the connector between teeth. Other enamel areas of the tooth or teeth that need more contour are prepared by roughening the surface with a coarse diamond instrument. Where no enamel is present, such as on the root surface, a dentin adhesive is used, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Additionally, a mechanical lock is prepared with a No. round bur in the dentin at the gingivoaxial line angle of the preparation. After the prepared enamel surfaces are acid-etched, rinsed, and dried, a lightly frosted appearance should be observed (see Online Fig. 21-1, B).
The adhesive is applied, lightly blown with air, and polymerized. A hand instrument is used to place a small amount of composite material in the gingival area. Additional shaping with a No. 2 explorer reduces the amount of finishing necessary later. It is helpful to add and cure composite in small increments, building from the gingival aspect toward the incisal aspect. Finishing is accomplished with round and flame-shaped carbide burs, fine diamonds, and polishing disks and points. The retraction cord is removed, and the occlusion is evaluated to assess centric contacts and functional movements. Instructions on brushing and flossing are reviewed with the patient. The result at 4 years is shown in Online Figure 21-1, C.
Splinting also can be used when the mandibular incisors are mobile because of severe bone loss. The same general steps are followed as described earlier. If further reinforcement is deemed necessary, however, a plasma-coated woven polyethylene strip, such as Ribbond (Ribbond Inc., Seattle, WA) can be used to strengthen the splint. Additionally, the use of flowable composites greatly facilitates the placement of interproximal composite connectors.
A typical case is illustrated in Online Figure 21-2. Following isolation with a rubber dam, small spaces (approximately 0.5 mm in width) are created between teeth with a flame-shaped diamond instrument to enable cross-sectionally strong composite connectors (see Online Fig. 21-2, A through C).
Because a fiber-reinforcing material will be used, the lingual surfaces to be bonded also should be lightly roughened with an oval diamond to enhance the resin bonds. All interproximal and lingual surfaces to be bonded are etched for 15 seconds with a phosphoric acid-etching gel (see Online Fig. 21-2, D), followed by thorough rinsing and drying. Round wooden wedges can be used to stabilize the mobile teeth and to help maintain an open gingival embrasure form. To prevent any resin from sticking to the wooden wedges, a light coat of petroleum jelly can be placed on the wedges prior to positioning the wedges interproximally. Bonding agent is applied and cured to all etched surfaces (see Online Fig. 21-2, E). The interproximal composite connectors are then generated by injecting flowable composite into these areas and shaped (if needed) with a #2 explorer (see Online Fig. 21-2, F). A small amount of flowable composite is placed onto the lingual surfaces (but not cured) to receive the auxiliary splinting strip. An appropriate length of splinting material (polyethylene-coated woven fabric) is cut and first saturated with bonding agent. Then, by using a gloved finger, the strip is pressed into uncured composite and cured initially into place (see Online Fig. 21-2, G). The bonded strip is then covered incrementally with flowable composite, resulting in a smooth lingual surface (see Online Fig. 21-2, H). Facial and incisal embrasures are defined with finishing burs to enhance esthetics. After finishing procedures, the rubber dam is removed, and the occlusion is evaluated. The final result is seen in Online Figure. 21-2, I and J.
After orthodontic treatment, teeth may require stabilization with either fixed or removable appliances. The latter method allows continued minor movements for the final positioning of teeth. When this position is reached, it is better to stabilize teeth with a fixed retainer. Removable retainers tend to irritate soft tissue. Also, they may be damaged, lost, or not worn, which usually leads to undesired movement of teeth.
Online Figure 21-3, A, shows a patient with a removable orthodontic retainer. Optimal positioning of teeth has been achieved by orthodontic movement; however, stabilization of teeth is required, and the unattractive spaces caused by undersized maxillary teeth need to be closed (see Online Fig. 21-3, B). A carefully planned appointment is required to accomplish the following: (1) remove any fixed orthodontic appliance, (2) add composite to close the diastemas, and (3) stabilize teeth with a twisted stainless steel wire and composite.
After the orthodontic appliance is removed and routine procedures are followed for closing the diastemas (see Online Fig. 21-3, C), the occlusion is examined carefully to determine the best position for locating the twisted wire because it will be placed only on the lingual surfaces. A sufficient length of twisted stainless steel wire (i.e., 0.0175 inch [0.45 mm] in diameter) is adapted to the lingual surface of anterior teeth. A stone cast is helpful for adapting the wire. The wire must rest against the lingual surfaces passively without tension or interference with the occlusion. In the mouth, waxed dental tape is used to position the wire against teeth and hold it in place while the occlusal excursions are evaluated. The wire is attached only to the lingual fossa of each tooth. After the position of the wire has been determined, it is removed, and only the enamel in the fossae (not the marginal ridges or embrasures) is etched, rinsed, and dried.
Light-cured composite is best used for attaching the fixed wire splint. The wire is repositioned and held in place with dental tape, while a sparing amount of resin-bonding agent is applied and lightly blown with air. After polymerization of the adhesive, a small amount of composite material is placed to encompass the wire in each fossa and bond it to the enamel. The operator must be careful not to involve the proximal surfaces (see Online Fig. 21-3, D). After polymerization of composite, the occlusion is evaluated and adjusted, as needed, for proper centric contacts and functional movements.
This unique splint allows some physiologic movement of teeth, yet it holds them in the correct position. The splint should remain in place for at least 6 months to ensure stabilization. Longer retention may be necessary, depending on the individual situation and recommendations of the orthodontist.
Facial injuries often involve the hard and soft tissues of the mouth. The damage may range from lacerations of soft tissue to fractures of teeth and alveolar bone. Partial or complete avulsion of teeth can occur. Maxillary central incisors are involved more often than are other teeth. A thorough clinical examination of soft tissue, lips, tongue, and cheeks should be made to locate lacerations and embedded tooth fragments and debris. Radiographic examination is necessary to diagnose deeply embedded fragments or root fractures.
Treatment of soft tissue lacerations should include lavage, conservative debridement, and suturing. Consultation with or referral to an oral surgeon may be necessary. A partially avulsed tooth is repositioned digitally and may or may not need splinting. Traumatically avulsed teeth that are reimplanted immediately or within 30 minutes have a good prognosis for being retained.1,2 After 30 minutes, the success rate declines rapidly. The avulsed tooth should be repositioned as soon as possible. In the interim, it should be placed in a moist environment such as saliva (i.e., held in the cheek or under the tongue), milk, saline, or wet towel. The replacement of avulsed teeth has immediate psychological value and maintains the natural space in the event that a fixed prosthesis is required later.
The maxillary right incisors that were completely avulsed in an accident (Online Fig. 21-4, A) are repositioned immediately. After the teeth are repositioned, radiographs reveal that no other complications exist. Isolation with cotton rolls or gauze is preferable to the use of a rubber dam, which could cause malpositioning of the loose teeth. The occlusion should be evaluated to ensure that the teeth are properly positioned.
The facial surfaces of the crowns are quickly cleaned with hydrogen peroxide, rinsed, and dried by blotting with a gauze or cotton roll or by lightly blowing with air. The dentist should avoid blowing air into areas of avulsion or deep wounds to prevent air emboli. If a crown is fractured, any deeply exposed dentin should be covered with calcium hydroxide to protect the pulp. A twisted orthodontic wire (0.0195 inch [0.49 mm]) must be long enough to cover the facial (or lingual) surfaces of enough teeth to stabilize the loose teeth. The wire is adapted and the ends rounded to prevent irritation to soft tissue. In an emergency, a disinfected paper clip can be used as a temporary splint.
No preparation of the enamel surface is necessary other than that provided by acid-etching. The middle third of the facial surfaces are etched, rinsed, and dried of all visible moisture. Drying should be accomplished by blotting with a gauze or cotton roll and a light stream of air. Self-cured or light-cured composite may be used. The wire is positioned and held lightly in place, and the ends are attached with composite material (see Online Fig. 21-4, B). Light pressure is applied to the repositioned teeth as the facial surfaces are bonded to the wire in succession (see Online Fig. 21-4, C). Care is exercised not to allow composite to flow into the proximal areas. When the teeth are stabilized, any fractured areas can be conservatively repaired by the acid-etch, resin-bond technique. Finishing is accomplished by a flame-shaped carbide finishing bur and abrasive disks. The occlusion is evaluated carefully to ensure that no premature contacts exist.
The patient is advised to maintain gentle care of the involved teeth. Antibiotic therapy may be required if the alveolar bone is fractured or significant soft tissue damage has occurred. Tetanus shots or boosters are advised, if indicated by the nature of the accident; the patient’s physician should be contacted about this. Appointments are made for follow-up examinations on a weekly basis for the first month. The patient is warned about symptoms of pulpal necrosis and advised to call if a problem develops. If root canal therapy is required, it is better accomplished with the splint in position.
Removal of the splint is accomplished in 4 to 8 weeks provided that recall visits have shown normal pulp test results and the teeth are asymptomatic. The wire is sectioned, and the resin material is removed with a flame-shaped, carbide finishing bur at high speed with air-water spray and a light, intermittent application. Abrasive disks are used to polish the teeth to a high luster.
In selected cases, conservative bridges can be made by acid-etching enamel and bonding a pontic to the adjacent natural teeth. These conservative bridges are classified according to the type of pontic: (1) natural tooth pontic, (2) denture tooth pontic, (3) porcelain-fused-to-metal pontic or all-metal pontic with metal retainers, and (4) all-porcelain pontic. Although the four types differ in the degree of permanency, they share a major advantage—conservation of the natural tooth structure. In addition, they can be viable alternatives to conventional fixed bridges in circumstances where age, expense, and clinical impracticality are considerations.
Because of the conservative preparation and bonded nature of all of these bridge types, retention is never as strong as in the case of a conventional bridge. As part of informed consent, patients should be told of the risk, although remote, of swallowing or aspirating bonded bridges that are dislodged. To reduce the risk of dislodgment, patients should be cautioned not to bite hard foods or objects with bonded bridge pontics.
The ideal site for a conservative bridge is where the edentulous space is no wider than one or two teeth. Other considerations include bite relation, oral hygiene, periodontal condition, and extent of caries, defects, and restorations in the abutment teeth. Conservative bridges are especially indicated for young patients because the teeth usually have large pulp chambers and short clinical crowns. Many older patients with gingival recession and mobile teeth are prime candidates because splinting can be incorporated with the bridge. More specific indications and clinical procedures for each of the four types of bridges are presented in the following sections.
The crowns of natural teeth (primarily incisors) often can be used as acid-etched, resin-bonded pontics. Considerations for this type of treatment include the following: (1) Periodontally involved teeth warrant extraction, (2) teeth have fractured roots, (3) teeth are unsuccessfully reimplanted after avulsion, and (4) root canal treatment has been unsuccessful. However lost, the immediate replacement of a natural anterior tooth has great psychological value for most patients, although the procedure may be temporary. Natural tooth pontics also can be placed as interim restorations until an extraction site heals if conditions require a conventional bridge or an implant.
Certain prerequisites must exist to ensure a successful result: (1) The extracted tooth and abutments must be in reasonably good condition, especially the pontic, because it may become brittle and more susceptible to fracture; (2) the abutment teeth should be fairly stable; and (3) the tooth to be replaced because a pontic must not participate in heavy centric or functional occlusion. Because of this third restriction, canines and posterior teeth are not usually good candidates for this procedure. If the adjacent teeth are mobile, it is frequently necessary to secure them by splinting with composite (see the section on acid-etched, resin-bonded splints).
A maxillary right central incisor must be extracted for periodontal reasons (Online Fig. 21-5, A and B). Before the tooth is extracted, a small, round bur is used to place a shallow identifying mark on the facial surface to indicate the level of the gingival crest. After extraction, a 2 × 2 inch (5 × 5 cm) sponge is held in the space with pressure for hemorrhage control.
By using a separating disk or a diamond instrument, the extracted tooth is transversely cut a few millimeters apical to the identification mark. When pontic length is determined, shrinkage of the healing tissue underlying the pontic tip must be anticipated. The root end is discarded.
If the pulp canal and chamber have completely calcified, the next procedure is shaping and polishing the apical end of the natural tooth pontic as described in the following paragraphs. If the chamber is calcified as disclosed on the radiograph and the canal is nearly calcified, the canal is opened from the apical end by using a small round bur or diamond to the extent of the canal. The operator should be as conservative of the tooth structure as possible and yet provide access for subsequent injection of the composite material to fill the canal. A large chamber and canal are instrumented and debrided using conventional endodontic procedures with access from the apical end (see Online Fig. 21-5, C). Access is provided for subsequent injection of composite. Removal of the pulpal tissue in this manner prevents discoloration of the tooth caused by degeneration products. Traditional lingual access for instrumentation is avoided to prevent weakening the pontic. After these procedures, the canal (and chamber, if present) is filled and closed with self-cured or light-cured composite. Light-cured materials must be placed incrementally to ensure complete polymerization.
After composite has been polymerized, the apical end is contoured to produce a bullet-shaped ovate design (see Online Fig. 21-5, C). This design provides adaptation of the pontic tip to the residual ridge, and yet it allows the tissue side of the pontic tip to be cleaned with dental floss. It is also the most esthetic pontic tip design that can be used. While being contoured, the tip is occasionally evaluated by trying the pontic in the space. In the maxillary arch, passive contact between the pontic tip and the healed residual ridge is considered ideal for maximal phonetic and esthetic potential. In the mandibular arch (where esthetics is not generally a problem), the pontic tip is best shaped into the same bullet-shaped design but positioned as a hygienic pontic type that does not contact tissue (Online Fig. 21-6, A). The pontic tip is smoothed and polished using a proper sequence of abrasive disks or polishing points. A polished pontic tip not only is easier to clean but also retains less plaque.
Usually, a rubber dam is needed for isolation of the region to prevent seepage of blood and saliva. Isolation using cotton rolls and gingival retraction cords is acceptable if the hemorrhage has been controlled. Any carious lesions or faulty proximal restorations on involved proximal surfaces of the pontic and the abutments are restored with light-cured composite (preferably the same material to be used subsequently for the bridge connectors) by using modified preparation designs. It is recommended that the resulting restored surfaces be under-contoured rather than over-contoured to facilitate positioning of the natural tooth pontic.