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.
You may think all crowns are alike—but there can be a world of difference between one crown and another. Getting the crown your dentist recommends and one that's satisfactory to you will depend on a number of factors, including what you'll ultimately have to pay.
Here are 3 things you need to know about crowns before undergoing a crown restoration.
Different materials. Although porcelain is the most life-like material used, earlier types of this glass-based material weren't strong enough to withstand biting forces, especially in back teeth. Years ago, all-metal crowns were most often used until the development of a hybrid porcelain crown with an inner metal substructure for strength. In recent years stronger all-porcelain crowns have risen in popularity. The material type that works best often depends on the tooth to be crowned—all-porcelain may work for a visible front incisor, but a porcelain-metal hybrid might be needed for a back molar.
Level of artistry. While new computer manufacturing systems allow dentists to produce patient crowns in-office, most still require the services and skills of a dental lab technician. The cost difference between crowns usually occurs at this juncture: the more life-like and customized the crown, the more artistry and time required by a technician to produce it. This can increase the cost of the crown.
Limited choices. While you and your dentist want your crown choice to be as individualized and life-like as possible, your dental insurance may limit your options. Many policies only provide benefits for the most basic crown restoration—enough to regain functionality and have an acceptable, but not always the most aesthetic, appearance. To get a higher quality of crown you may have to supplement what your policy and deductible will cover.
Deciding which crown is best will depend on where it will be needed, the level of attractiveness you desire and your insurance and financial comfort level. And your dentist can certainly help guide you to a crown choice that's right for you.
If you would like more information on restorative crown choices, 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 “Porcelain Dental Crowns.”
While wearing braces is the path to a healthier and more attractive smile, it can be a difficult journey. One of your biggest challenges will be keeping your teeth clean to avoid a higher risk of tooth decay.
Tooth decay starts with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Daily brushing and flossing clear this accumulation. But the hardware of braces makes it difficult to access all tooth surfaces, and can even become a haven for plaque.
One sign in particular of tooth decay while wearing braces is the appearance of chalk-like spots on the teeth known as white spot lesions (WSLs). WSLs occur because the minerals in the enamel beneath them have begun to break down in response to decay. The spots can eventually cause both structural and cosmetic problems for a tooth.
The best approach to WSLs is to prevent them from developing in the first place. You'll need to be extra vigilant with daily oral hygiene while wearing braces to reduce plaque buildup. To help with the increased difficulty you might consider using a special toothbrush designed to maneuver more closely around orthodontic hardware. You may also find using a water flosser to be a lot easier than flossing thread.
Preventing tooth decay and WSLs also includes what you eat or drink to reduce the effects of enamel de-mineralization. The bacteria that cause decay thrive on sugar, so limit your intake of sweetened foods and beverages. And to avoid excessive demineralization cut back on acidic foods as well.
If despite your best preventive efforts WSLs still form, we can take steps to minimize any damage. For one, we can give your enamel a boost with fluoride applications or other remineralization substances. We can also inject a tooth-colored resin beneath the surface of a WSL that will make it less noticeable.
With any of these and other treatments, though, the sooner we can treat the WSL the better the outcome. Practicing good hygiene and dietary habits, as well as keeping an eye out for any WSL formations, will do the most to protect your new and improved smile.
If you would like more information on preventing dental disease while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
Ed Helms is best known for his role as the self-absorbed, Ivy League sales rep, Andy Bernard, on television's The Office. But to millions of fans he's also Stu, a member of a bachelor trip to Las Vegas in the 2009 movie The Hangover. In it, Stu and his friends wake up from a wild night on the Strip to find some things missing: the groom-to-be, their memories and, for Stu, a front tooth.
In reality, the missing tooth gag wasn't a Hollywood makeup or CGI (computer-generated imagery) trick—it was Ed Helm's actual missing tooth. According to Helms, the front tooth in question never developed and he had obtained a dental implant to replace it. He had the implant crown removed for the Hangover movie and then replaced after filming.
Helms' dental situation isn't that unusual. Although most of the 170 million-plus teeth missing from Americans' mouths are due to disease or trauma, a few happened because the teeth never formed. While most of these congenitally missing teeth are in the back of the mouth, a few, as in Helms' case, involve front teeth in the “smile zone,” which can profoundly affect appearance.
Fortunately, people missing undeveloped teeth have several good options to restore their smiles and dental function. The kind of tooth missing could help determine which option to use. For example, a bridge supported by the teeth on either side of the gap might work well if the teeth on either side are in need of crowns.
If the missing tooth happens to be one or both of the lateral incisors (on either side of the centermost teeth), it could be possible to move the canine teeth (the pointy ones, also called eye teeth) to fill the gap. This technique, known as canine substitution, may also require further modification—either by softening the canines' pointed tips, crowning them or applying veneers—to help the repositioned teeth look more natural.
The optimal solution, though, is to replace a missing tooth with a dental implant which then has a lifelike crown attached to it, as Ed Helms did to get his winning smile. Implant-supported replacement teeth are closest to natural teeth in terms of both appearance and function. Implants, though, shouldn't be placed until the jaw has fully developed, usually in early adulthood. A younger person may need a temporary restoration like a bonded bridge or a partial denture until they're ready for an implant.
Whatever the method, there's an effective way to restore missing teeth. Seeing us for an initial exam is the first step toward your own winning smile.
Your sweet, good-natured baby has seemingly gone from zero to grumpy overnight. The reason is simple: They’re teething.
Teething is a natural process in which a baby’s first teeth (primary teeth) begin to break through the gums, usually between six and nine months of age. This process continues intermittently until all twenty of the primary teeth erupt, sometime around age 3.
This uncomfortable and sometimes painful experience can cause gum swelling, biting and gnawing, chin rash and drooling. Your child may become irritable not only from this physical discomfort but also from disrupted sleep patterns and decreased appetite that often accompanies teething.
While you may have an unhappy baby while they’re teething, there’s usually no cause for concern. This is a natural process all children encounter, and the best thing you can do is make them as comfortable as possible. An exception would be accompanying diarrhea, fever or lingering crankiness—these could be symptoms of a more serious condition. If you begin to notice these, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
During teething there are a number of things you can do to reduce irritation. For one, allow your child to chew on clean, chilled (not frozen) teething rings, or a cold wet washcloth. The cold will help numb their irritated gum tissues. Massaging their gums with a clean finger can also help counteract the pressure caused by the incoming tooth.
If your doctor advises, you can also give your child over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen in an age-appropriate dosage. But be sure you give these medications orally and not rub them on the gums—some ingredients in them could burn the tissues. You should also not apply rubbing alcohol to the gums for the same reason. And avoid products with the numbing agent Benzocaine® in children less than two years of age unless your doctor advises otherwise.
Teething isn’t always a pleasant time for your baby or you, but it’s necessary—and temporary. In no time at all this discomfort will pass, and in its place will be their first set of teeth.
If you would like more information on teething, 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 “Teething Troubles: How to Help Keep Your Baby Comfortable.”
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