Clear Aligners

What is IPR and how does it work?

Posted on June 2nd, 2020

If your dentist has suggested that they carry out a procedure called IPR, then you may be wondering what it is and how it works. So let’s dive straight in and take a look.

Firstly, what is IPR?

IPR (otherwise known as interproximal reduction) is a classic dental technique used commonly by orthodontists and dental professionals since the 1940s (source) as a way to help achieve treatment goals. Just to confuse you, it’s also known as ‘interdental enamel reduction’, ‘selective enamel reduction,’ and ‘enamel reproximation’ but they are in fact the same thing. While it sounds intimidating and gives no real clues about what the actual process involves, IPR is often carried out to reduce the need for teeth extraction and/or to achieve your smile goals without flaring your teeth or hurting your bite. However, it’s a procedure that many people are apprehensive about.

Here at Uniform Teeth, we believe that the best way of overcoming any form of dental anxiety is to be fully informed. With this in mind, we’ll set out to provide you with everything you need to know about interproximal reduction (IPR) treatment.

Why do orthodontists use IPR?

While the specific reason IPR may be recommended for you is unique to your case, there are a few reasons why an orthodontist will recommend it:

When space is needed to unravel crowding. For example when specific teeth are overlapping, they are occupying the same space, so your orthodontist needs to create space in order to move the teeth to where they belong. Crowding is a common dental condition that occurs when the jaw is simply too small to properly house all of the patient’s teeth. As a result, the teeth are so close together that they have little or no space between them. When this happens, they start to push each other out of alignment. In turn, this can cause a whole host of problems.

In years gone by, a simple solution would have been to simply extract one or more teeth, thus creating the necessary room. However, we believe that the best dental treatment is one that preserves teeth if at all possible, so by reshaping or resizing teeth rather than removing them, it’s better for the patient and their dental health. We’ve found that by selective use of IPR, along with other techniques such as broadening of the smile or bringing the teeth forward to improve lip-support when appropriate, at Uniform we’re able to reduce the need to pull teeth.

Not only that, extracting teeth can make for an uncomfortable and anxious visit for some patients. Slimming teeth, on the other hand, is often carried out using nothing more than a very fine metal strip with diamond dust on it which slides between teeth like special dental floss (‘diamond strip’) or a very fine dental bur with diamond dust on it to polish away a fraction of a millimeter of enamel (source), so it is safe, quick and painless. “No shots or dental anesthesia is necessary because it feels like a tooth cleaning.”

To maintain or improve your bite while aligning your teeth. When an orthodontist is moving a patient's teeth into alignment, IPR may need to be used to align teeth so that the patient’s bite is maintained throughout. An example of this is for a patient with an open bite, where their upper teeth are flared outward - often with spaces between them - and once the teeth are pulled inward, IPR is used to help the lower teeth move back slightly and create space for the upper teeth. In fact, “my teeth are straight, but now my bite doesn’t touch” is one of the most common issues we hear when patients use DIY kits, where IPR isn’t done to protect their bites.

To eliminate the unsightly dark spaces between teeth. There are some instances where teeth may be overlapped for a long period of time and/or the gum has not “filled in” between the teeth which leads to a visual black area between the contact point of the teeth and the gum. We call these “black triangles”! IPR can help bring the teeth closer together to reduce the appearance of extra gaps or spaces between teeth.

So now you know why we perform IPR between teeth…

How does the IPR process work?

After your orthodontist indicates where he/she needs to perform IPR, they use a precision tool to carefully remove a minimal amount of enamel. Since enamel is the hard mineral shell of the tooth, it doesn’t contain any soft tissue or nerves. As a result, no anesthesia is required and you should feel no discomfort.

Interproximal reduction treatment usually only takes a few minutes to complete and can be done in just one visit, or (depending upon how many teeth need resizing) can be spread out over several visits.

While taking a minuscule amount of enamel off a tooth might not seem to make much of a difference, when this is done across several teeth, it can create enough space to move teeth safely, unravel crowding or correct a bite, without harming any teeth.

Does IPR treatment damage teeth?

Thankfully, IPR doesn’t damage teeth. In fact, your teeth come with a really thick layer of enamel so that they can survive a lifetime of chewing! What we typically worry about is ensuring you aren’t grinding your teeth or wearing down the enamel on the surfaces of your teeth - where your teeth touch to chew food day in and day out! However, the sides of your teeth typically have a lot of extra enamel since they come with the same amount of enamel as the tops of your teeth, and this enamel layer isn’t being ground down daily by chewing. IPR typically removes just 5% of the enamel between teeth, and it is believed you could even remove more than 50% and your teeth would still be healthy and strong (source). In addition, since IPR has been done since the 1940s, scientific studies have shown that it doesn’t result in extra cavities, sensitivity or other negative consequences (source). At Uniform, we believe in doing the minimal amount of IPR necessary to achieve the best result. This is often less than a hair's width of polishing!

What about tooth sensitivity?

Immediately after the orthodontist polishes or performs IPR on your teeth, some patients may experience slight tooth sensitivity when eating or drinking hot or cold items. Usually, this is only temporary, and teeth should return to normal within a few days.

So, we’ve answered the question of what is IPR and why do orthodontists use IPR. We’ve also talked about what you can expect during the process and whether you should be worried when going through IPR at Uniform (please don’t be, it’s very safe!). In essence, the whole idea of IPR treatment is to allow you to experience the benefits of straightening your teeth without the need for something more drastic like extracting a tooth or damaging your bite! It’s quick, it’s easy and above all, IPR teeth alignment ensures that you get the treatment you need in order to have a healthy and confident smile.

If you’d like to find out more about IPR and how it can help you to get the orthodontic or clear aligner treatment you want, visit our website to schedule your free consultation.

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