"Tooth Stripping" (interproximal reduction) - How does it help your dentist straighten your teeth?

What is it?

Interproximal reduction (also termed "tooth stripping" or "interdental reduction") refers to a procedure where your dentist trims off a small thickness of tooth enamel from selected teeth where (in proper alignment) they would normally touch against each other.

Why is tooth stripping needed?

This procedure is most frequently used in cases where the problem being corrected is tooth crowding. The dentist "strips" the patient's teeth as a way of making space into which they can then be realigned.

Before your treatment is begun, your dentist should be able to tell you if they think this procedure will be required.

Crowded teeth can be narrowed and then realigned using dental braces.

Reasons why stripping teeth makes good sense.

You might be concerned that your dentist plans to shave off a portion of your misaligned, but otherwise healthy, teeth.

In justification of this procedure, here are some reasons why it might be chosen over other alternatives.

Stripping your teeth may provide the most practical approach.

If your teeth are crowded, your orthodontist will need to find a way of creating additional space. There are, however, only so many options available to them.

  • Sometimes space can be gained by tilting teeth forward, backward or to the side. But this type of tooth positioning has limitations.
  • Space can also be gained by extracting ("pulling") selected teeth. However, doing so may create more space than is needed, not to mention that one or more teeth are lost.

Especially in those situations where just a small amount of space is needed, tooth stripping can provide a very practical solution.

Doesn't trimming your teeth damage them?

Obviously, when this procedure is performed some thickness of tooth enamel is lost. The question then becomes does losing this amount of enamel damage a tooth?

A) Tooth stripping probably approximates normal wear.

Every tooth is anchored in your jawbone by a ligament. And this ligament allows for small amounts of tooth movement. When movement takes place, some tooth-to-tooth wear occurs. In fact, it's normal for the contact points of teeth to wear flatter as we age.

Since the contact points of crowded teeth will not experience this type of wear, the portion of the tooth that is shaved off during the stripping process simply approximates that amount of tooth-enamel loss that would have occurred anyway.

B) Are stripped teeth more likely to experience tooth decay?

Interproximal reduction has been used by orthodontists for decades. And over the years, many dental researchers have evaluated its long-term effects.

A recent study (Zachrisson, 2007) found no increased incidence of dental problems (tooth decay, gum disease, bone problems) in a group of subjects that had had tooth stripping performed more than ten years previously.


Stripping teeth as a part of orthodontic treatment.

How does a dentist strip your teeth?

Your dentist may strip your teeth by hand (using a flexible diamond-coated strip that's worked back and forth between your teeth) or using a dental drill. The method they choose will probably just depend on how much needs to be trimmed off.

If it's just a small amount (.3mm or less), they'll probably work by hand because it gives them more control over the amount of tooth enamel that is removed. For larger reductions, they'll probably use their dental drill.

Your dentist will be careful not to trim away too much.

During the stripping process your dentist will, from time to time, fit a small thickness gauge between your teeth and measure the gap they have created. Once they have widened the gap enough, they'll document this width in your dental chart. Any future stripping will be documented too, so no tooth has too much enamel removed.

What's it feel like when interdental reduction is performed?

Don't worry, having your teeth stripped really isn't all that big of a deal. It's a little unpleasant, in the sense that you do feel the tug of the diamond strip between your teeth or the vibrations of the drill. But as far as pain goes, there shouldn't be any (no dental anesthetic should be required).

Your dentist may need to strip your teeth more than once.

You'll have to ask your dentist about what will be required for your case. They may only need to strip your teeth once over the course of your treatment, or possibly at a few times. Additional strips are often less involved and may be accomplished using just the diamond-strip technique.

After they've been stripped, will you notice gaps between your teeth?

Sure, after your interproximal reduction has been performed you will see small gaps between your teeth. After all, making space is the whole idea of the procedure.

But they will be quite small and probably not all that apparent to others. And of course, as your treatment progresses, your gaps will become smaller and smaller until they are finally fully closed.

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