Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.
Dental implants are today’s preferred choice for replacing missing teeth. They’re the closest restoration to natural teeth—but at a price, especially for multiple teeth. If implants are beyond your current financial ability, there’s an older, more affordable option: a removable partial denture (RPD).
Similar in concept to a full denture, a RPD replaces one or more missing teeth on a jaw. It usually consists of a lightweight but sturdy metal frame supporting a resin or plastic base (colored pink to mimic gum tissue). Prosthetic (false) teeth are attached to the base at the locations of the missing teeth. Unlike transitional dentures, RPDs are designed to last for many years.
Although simple in concept, RPDs certainly aren’t a “one-size-fits-all” option. To achieve long-term success with an RPD we must first consider the number of missing teeth and where they’re located in the jaw. This will dictate the type of layout and construction needed to create a custom RPD.
In addition, we’ll need to consider the health and condition of your remaining teeth. This can be important to an RPD’s design, especially if we intend to use them to support the RPD during wear. Support is a fundamental concern because we want to prevent the RPD from excessively moving in place.
Besides dental support we’ll also need to take into account how the jaws function when they bite. The RPD’s design should evenly distribute the forces generated when you eat and chew so as not to create undue pressure on the bony ridges of the jaw upon which the RPD rests. Too much pressure could accelerate bone loss in the jaw, a common issue with dentures.
It takes a lot of planning to create a comfortably-fitting RPD with minimal impact on your dental health. But you’ll also have to maintain it to ensure lasting durability. You should clean your RPD daily, as well as brush and floss the rest of your teeth to minimize the chances of developing tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. You can further discourage disease-causing bacterial growth by removing them at night while you sleep.
A RPD can be a viable alternative to more expensive restorations. And with the right design and proper care it could serve you and your smile for a long time to come.
If you would like more information on removable partial dentures, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Removable Partial Dentures.”
Is a chipped tooth big news? It is if you’re Justin Bieber. When the pop singer recently posted a picture from the dental office to his instagram account, it got over 2.6 million “likes.” The snapshot shows him reclining in the chair, making peace signs with his hands as he opens wide; meanwhile, his dentist is busy working on his smile. The caption reads: “I chipped my tooth.”
Bieber may have a few more social media followers than the average person, but his dental problem is not unique. Sports injuries, mishaps at home, playground accidents and auto collisions are among the more common causes of dental trauma.
Some dental problems need to be treated as soon as possible, while others can wait a few days. Do you know which is which? Here are some basic guidelines:
A tooth that’s knocked out needs attention right away. First, try and locate the missing tooth and gently clean it with water — but avoid holding the tooth’s roots. Next, grasp the crown of the tooth and place it back in the socket facing the correct way. If that isn’t possible, place it between the cheek and gum, in a plastic bag with the patient’s saliva or a special tooth preservative, or in a glass of cold milk. Then rush to the dental office or emergency room right away. For the best chance of saving the tooth, it should be treated within five minutes.
If a tooth is loosened or displaced (pushed sideways, deeper into or out of its socket), it’s best to seek dental treatment within 6 hours. A complete examination will be needed to find out exactly what’s wrong and how best to treat it. Loosened or displaced teeth may be splinted to give them stability while they heal. In some situations, a root canal may be necessary to save the tooth.
Broken or fractured (cracked) teeth should receive treatment within 12 hours. If the injury extends into the tooth’s inner pulp tissue, root canal treatment will be needed. Depending on the severity of the injury, the tooth may need a crown (cap) to restore its function and appearance. If pieces of the tooth have been recovered, bring them with you to the office.
Chipped teeth are among the most common dental injuries, and can generally be restored successfully. Minor chips or rough edges can be polished off with a dental instrument. Teeth with slightly larger chips can often be restored via cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. When more of the tooth structure is missing, the best solution may be porcelain veneers or crowns. These procedures can generally be accomplished at a scheduled office visit. However, if the tooth is painful, sensitive to heat or cold or producing other symptoms, don’t wait for an appointment — seek help right away.
Justin Bieber earned lots of “likes” by sharing a picture from the dental office. But maybe the take-home from his post is this: If you have a dental injury, be sure to get treatment when it’s needed. The ability to restore a damaged smile is one of the best things about modern dentistry.
If you have questions about dental injury, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
October is national Dental Hygiene month—and it’s a great time to renew your commitment to good oral health. Everyone knows that to enjoy clean teeth and fresh breath, we need to brush and floss every day. But when it comes to the finer points of tooth brushing, there’s a lot of misunderstanding. So here are five tips to help you get the most bang from your brush.
A soft brush is much better for your mouth than a medium or hard one. That’s because stiffer bristles can actually damage soft gum tissue, and over-vigorous brushing can result in gum recession; this may lead to tooth sensitivity and an increased chance of decay. So always choose a soft-bristled tooth brush—and change your brush every three or four months, when its bristles begin to stiffen with use.
It Isn’t (Just) the Brush…
It’s the hand that holds it. Don’t brush too forcefully, or too long. If you consistently brush too hard, try using just three fingers to grip your brush so you apply less force. And if you have questions or need a refresher, just ask us to demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques next time you’re here.
Think Fluoride First
With many different flavors, whiteners and other ingredients in toothpastes, which one should you choose? It’s up to you, as long as your toothpaste contains one vital ingredient—fluoride. This natural mineral has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel and fight cavities. Look for the seal of the American Dental Association (ADA) on the toothpaste tube: this certifies that it’s been tested for safety and effectiveness.
2x2 = Terrific Teeth
According to the ADA, brushing gently for two full minutes, two times a day, is the best way to get rid of plaque and prevent cavities. That’s why it should be an essential part of your oral hygiene routine. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to use dental floss (or another method) to clean the spaces in between your teeth. If you don’t remove plaque from these areas, your cleaning isn’t complete.
Preserve Your Enamel
There are some times when you should avoid brushing—like after you’ve consumed soda, or been sick to your stomach. That’s because the acids in soda and stomach juices actually soften tooth enamel, and brushing can quickly wear it away. In these situations, rinse your mouth out with water and wait at least an hour before you brush.
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best thing you can do for your teeth at home. But don’t forget to come in to the office for regular checkups and professional cleanings! Because no matter how thorough you are, you can’t clean hardened deposits (calculus, or tartar) from your teeth at home: It takes special tools and the skilled hand of your hygienist or dentist to do that.
If you would like more information about tooth brushing and oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sizing Up Toothbrushes” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
If you’re thinking about getting dental implants, you’re in good company. Dentists have placed more than 3 million of these popular devices since their introduction in the early 1980s.
But if you have multiple missing teeth, you might think the cost of all those individual implants could put them out of your league. Yes, replacing multiple teeth with individual implants can be quite expensive—but implant technology isn’t limited to one tooth at a time. A few well-placed implants can impart their proven durability and stability to other types of restorations.
For example, we can incorporate implants into a bridge for a series of missing teeth. Conventional bridges are normally fixed in place by altering and then crowning natural teeth on each side of the missing teeth gap with a fixed row of prosthetic (false) teeth in the middle to fill it. Instead, two implants placed at the ends of the gap can support the bridge rather than natural teeth. This not only provides greater stability for the bridge, it also avoids permanent altering the natural teeth that would have been used.
Implants can also support a fixed bridge to restore complete tooth loss on a jaw. The new bridge is attached to a few strategically placed implants along the jaw line to equally distribute biting forces. This can result in a strong hold with excellent durability.
We can also use implants to improve traditional dentures. Dentures normally rest directly on the gums’ bony ridges, depending on a snug fit for stability. But bone loss, a natural consequence of missing teeth, can still occur while wearing dentures, which may in fact accelerate the rate of loss due to the appliance’s constant pressure and friction against the gums.
Instead, just a few implants placed along the jaw can, with attachments built into the denture, hold it securely in place. This not only decreases the pressure on the gums, but the natural bone growth that occurs around the implant may even deter bone loss.
Depending on your situation, there could be a viable restoration solution involving implants. Visit our office for a complete examination and evaluation to see if implants could help change your smile forever.
If you would like more information on implant restorations, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Implants 101: the Most Significant Innovation in the Past Century.”
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