Dental amalgam—also known as “silver fillings”—has been used for nearly a hundred years to treat cavities. There are several reasons why this mixture of metals has been the go-to material among dentists: Malleable when first applied, dental amalgam sets up into a durable dental filling that can take years of biting forces. What’s more, it’s stable and compatible with living tissue.
But there’s been growing concern in recent years about the safety of dental amalgam, with even some wondering if they should have existing fillings replaced. The reason: liquid mercury.
Mercury makes up a good portion of dental amalgam’s base mixture, to which other metals like silver, tin or copper are added to it in powder form. This forms a putty that can be easily worked into a prepared cavity. And despite the heightened awareness of the metal’s toxicity to humans, it’s still used in dental amalgam.
The reason why is that there are various forms of mercury and not all are toxic. The form making headlines is known as methylmercury, a compound created when mercury from the environment fuses with organic molecules. The compound builds up in the living tissues of animals, particularly large ocean fish, which have accumulated high concentrations passed up through their food chain.
That’s not what’s used in dental amalgam. Dentists instead use a non-toxic, elemental form of mercury that when set up becomes locked within the amalgam and cannot leach out. Based on various studies, treating cavities with it poses no health risks to humans.
This also means there’s no medical reason for having an existing silver fillings removed. Doing so, though, could cause more harm than good because it could further weaken the remaining tooth structure.
The most viable reason for not getting a dental amalgam filling is cosmetic: The metallic appearance of amalgam could detract from your smile. There are newer, more life-like filling options available. Your dentist, though, may still recommend dental amalgam for its strength and compatibility, especially for back teeth. It’s entirely safe to accept this recommendation.
It's a “change” moment when your child leaves home to attend college for the first time. For many, it's the first time to truly be on their own. While that new autonomy can be exhilarating, it does require self-responsibility to avoid some nasty pitfalls that might snare them.
So, before you bid them adieu at the dorm, be sure to give them some good, old-fashioned parental advice. And that includes teeth and gum care: While it may not seem as urgent as other potential issues, failing to maintain oral health could eventually affect the rest of their health.
The most important thing they can do mouth-wise is to brush and floss every day—and see a dentist at least twice a year. Daily oral hygiene keeps plaque, a thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease, from accumulating.
There are other habits that foster good oral health—like eating a well-balanced diet. Encourage them to eat “real” food: less on processed items and more on fresh fruits and vegetables. That includes keeping added sugar to a minimum—not only for good overall health, but to also deprive disease-causing oral bacteria of a favorite food source. And tell them to go easy on the sodas, sports and energy drinks loaded with acid that can damage enamel.
Don't forget to mention lifestyle practices that are best avoided. Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption can make the mouth more susceptible to diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. And even if oral piercings are all the rage on campus, any hardware worn in the mouth could cause chipped teeth and contribute to gum recession.
And if you've already had the “talk” with them, you should still review the facts of life one more time. There just happens to be a connection with this particular subject and their mouth—unsafe sexual practices could leave them vulnerable to the human papilloma virus (HPV16) that could increase their oral cancer risk.
College is both an exciting and challenging time. If your new student follows these timely oral care tips, they can avoid teeth and gum problems that could linger for years to come.
If you would like more information helping your college-bound student maintain good oral health, 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
Chipped a tooth? Don't beat yourself up—this type of dental injury is quite common. In fact, you probably have a favorite celebrity who has chipped one or more of their teeth. The list is fairly long.
Some chipped a tooth away from the limelight, such as Tom Cruise (a hockey puck to the face as a teen), Jim Carrey (roughhousing on the playground) and Paul McCartney (a sudden stop with a moped). Others, though, chipped a tooth while “on the job.” Taylor Swift, Hillary Duff and Jennifer Lopez have all chipped a tooth on stage with a microphone. And chipped teeth seem to be an occupational hazard among professional athletes like former NFL star, Jerry Rice.
Since smiles are an indispensable asset to high-profile celebrities, you can be sure these stars have had those chipped teeth restored. The good news is the same procedures they've undergone are readily available for anyone. The two most common restorations for chipped teeth are dental bonding and veneers.
The least invasive way to fix a chipped tooth is bonding with a material known as composite resin. With this technique, resin is first mixed to match the tooth color and then applied to the chipped area or applied in layers of color to get just the right look. After a bit of shaping, curing and adjustment, we're done—you can walk out with a restored tooth in one visit.
Bonding works well with slight to moderate chips, but it could be less durable when there is more extensive damage. For that, you may want to consider porcelain veneers. Veneers are thin wafers of dental porcelain that are bonded to the front of teeth to mask blemishes like stains, slight gaps or, yes, chips. Veneers can be so lifelike that you won't be able to tell the veneered tooth from your other teeth. They are fashioned to match the color and shape of an individual's teeth. Because of the time and design detail involved, veneers are more expensive than bonding, yet still within an affordable range for many.
Teeth require some alteration before applying traditional veneers because otherwise the teeth can appear bulky when the veneer is bonded to the existing tooth. To compensate, we remove a little of the tooth enamel. Because this loss is permanent, you'll need to wear veneers or have some other form of restoration for the tooth from then on. For many people, though, that's a small price to pay for a smile without chips.
Your first step to repairing a chipped tooth is to come in for an examination. From there, we'll recommend the best option for your situation. And regardless of which, bonding or veneers, we can change your smile for the better.
If you would like more information about restoring injured teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Whitening” and “Porcelain Veneers: Strength and Beauty as Never Before.”
You feel great about your new smile, thanks to dental implants! And you may also be feeling relief as the problems with your former teeth fade into the past.
But that doesn’t mean you can drop your guard on periodontal (gum) disease. Even though implants are impervious to decay, the natural tissues supporting them are vulnerable to periodontal (gum) disease. If they become diseased, your implants could lose their bone support and eventually fail.
And that failure could happen quickly. That’s because, as life-like as they are, implants don’t have one important advantage of real teeth: an attachment to a connective tissue called the periodontal ligament. This tough but elastic ligament lies between the teeth and the bone, attaching to both with tiny extending fibers and holding the teeth in place.
And that’s not all: Because the periodontal ligament contains an abundance of blood vessels, it can supply antibodies to help fight infection. The body’s defenses may not be able to stop disease, but they can certainly inhibit its progress.
Implants can’t benefit from this infection-fighting mechanism. So, when an infection arises in the gums surrounding an implant, it can spread rapidly through a form of gum disease known as peri-implantitis (literally “inflammation around an implant”). If we don’t stop it with prompt treatment, you could lose bone support from your implant and eventually lose it, sometimes in quick fashion.
That’s why you should clean your implants everyday like you do the rest of your teeth with brushing and flossing. You should also visit us regularly for dental cleanings. A dental cleaning involving implants is similar to one with natural teeth, except the hygienist won’t use metal instruments on the implants—this could create tiny scratches on their surface. Instead, they’ll use nylon or plastic instruments or ultrasonic equipment to clean them.
You should also make a dental appointment as soon as you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you have gum disease, we can stop the infection through treatment and restore your gums to health. This can be a long and involved process, but it’s necessary to preserve your implants.
It’s true that implants can change your life. If you want to enjoy that change for a long time, take care of your implants and the natural tissues that support them.
If you would like more information on caring for dental implants, 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 Implant Maintenance.”
To have a beautiful, healthy smile you’ll need to keep those pearly whites clean and plaque-free. Good dental hygiene, though, isn’t a solo act: It’s a duet best performed by you and your dental health provider. While you’re responsible for brushing and flossing every day, your dental hygienist gives your teeth a thorough cleaning every six months (or more). The American Dental Hygienists Association commemorates every October as National Dental Hygiene Month to recognize both the importance of hygiene and the professionals who assist you in keeping your teeth as clean as possible.
The focus for this emphasis on brushing, flossing and professional cleaning? A slick, slimy substance called dental plaque. This thin film of bacteria and food particles builds up on tooth surfaces after eating and gives rise to infections that cause tooth decay and gum disease. And it doesn’t take long without proper brushing and flossing, for a gum infection called gingivitis to start in only a matter of days. Daily hygiene reduces your risk of that happening: Brushing removes plaque from the broad, biting surfaces of the teeth, while flossing takes care of the areas between teeth that brushing can’t access.
So, if you can remove most of the plaque yourself, why see a dental hygienist? For two reasons: First, while daily hygiene takes care of the lion’s share of plaque, it’s difficult to clear away all of it. Over time, even a small amount of missed plaque can increase your disease risk. However, a professional cleaning that uses special hand tools and ultrasonic equipment can easily clean away this leftover plaque.
Second, some of the soft plaque can interact with saliva to form a hardened, calcified form called calculus or tartar. It can harbor bacteria just like the softer version, and it’s next to impossible to dislodge with brushing and flossing. Again, a trained hygienist with the right tools can effectively break up and remove calculus.
There are also additional benefits that come from regular dental visits to your hygienist. For one, hygienists can provide practical instruction and tips to help you brush and floss more effectively. And, after cleaning your teeth, they can point out areas with heavy plaque and calculus deposits. That can help you focus more of your future brushing and flossing efforts on those areas.
So, a shout-out to all the dental hygienists out there: These dedicated professionals work hard to keep your teeth clean. And a big high-five to you, too: Without your daily commitment to brushing and flossing, your smile wouldn’t be as beautiful—and healthy.
If you would like more information about best dental hygiene practices, please contact us to schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Hygiene Visit” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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