Last month, my right rear-lower molar broke. As shown in Figure 1, the fracture event resulted in a chipped condition. The red arrows show the boundary (edge) of the missing piece. The green arrows highlight a much darker gray portion of my tooth along the upper edge. Dark means less of the tooth material that the X-rays have to penetrate before getting to the film or digital recorder. The remaining intact upper edge of this same tooth (inside the crescent defined by the green arrows) is noticeably thinned. This resulted in a sharp edge, as the now unprotected softer inner layers gradually wore away.

The edge thinning had taken a long time to happen, and I had been concerned about my back four molars for a while. Once this chip broke off, I was even more nervous because tooth enamel is quite brittle. Having spent so much of the last 30 years studying broken things, I could easily imagine a new crack propagating down into the root of my tooth. I am into my seventh decade and never had to have a filling or any other dental work in my life – beside the removal of eight teeth as a young person because “my mouth was too small to hold them in proper alignment.” I had not seen a dentist in a long time. It was time to cave in and take action!

I made an appointment and saw the dentist. The good news – after a horrible session with a giant digital X-ray camera head inserted into my mouth 18 times for the full set of X-rays they insisted on taking – was that my teeth were not rotten. The dentist told me he could make a crown or, for less financial outlay, a composite filling.

By then, however, my fellow materials engineer/failure analyst friend had listened to my sad tale of woe and told me I must get a Cerec repair. Cerec stands for Chairside Economical (although other renderings of the acronym specified Cost Effective) Restoration (with) Esthetic Ceramics. This dear friend is very smart, and I generally at least investigate following her advice. My research indicated that it was good advice, but that dentist didn’t have Cerec. Off to a second dentist I went.