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.
Today's dental restorations are truly amazing. Not only are they life-like and functional, they can endure for many years a hostile environment of bacteria, acid and heavy biting forces.
Even so, you'll still need to take care of your restorations to help them last. Here's how to extend the life of 3 common forms of dental work.
Fillings. We use fillings, both metal amalgam and tooth-colored materials, to repair holes or cavities in teeth caused by tooth decay. Although strong, dental fillings can break if you subject them to abnormally high biting force (like chewing ice). There's also a chance that if a slight separation occurs between the filling and tooth, bacteria can take up residence and reignite the decay process. To prevent this, practice a daily regimen of oral hygiene to clean away bacterial plaque—and reduce sugar in your diet, a prime food source for bacteria.
Veneers. Usually made of thin porcelain, veneers are bonded to the front of teeth to mask chips, stains, gaps or other blemishes. But although they're strong, veneers aren't immune to damage. Habits like biting nails, the aforementioned ice chewing or unconsciously grinding your teeth could cause a chipped veneer. And if periodontal (gum) disease causes your gums to recede, the exposed part of the tooth may look noticeably darker than the veneer. To protect your veneers and their appearance, avoid habits like ice chewing, and seek treatment for teeth grinding and dental disease.
Bridgework. Bridges are used to replace one or more missing teeth. Traditional bridges use the natural teeth on either side of the gap to support the bridge; for a single missing tooth, implants are a preferable option because they don't require permanently altering the neighboring teeth to support it. With either option, though, you should brush and floss around the restoration to reduce the risk of dental disease. Infections like gum disease or tooth decay could eventually weaken the bridge's supporting teeth or gum disease can damage an implant's gum and bone support.
With any dental restoration, be sure to practice daily oral hygiene, eat a nutritious, low-sugar diet, and see your dentist regularly for cleanings and checkups. Taking care of your dental work will help it take care of you for a long time to come.
Miley Cyrus's rise to fame began when she was cast in the Disney series Hannah Montana. She played the title character, Hannah Montana, a famous singing star hiding her true identity, ordinary girl, Miley Stewart. In her real life at the time, Miley Cyrus had her own little secret—she was undergoing orthodontic treatment to straighten her smile.
Like many teenagers (as well as many adults), Cyrus's dental bite wasn't in proper alignment. She could have gone the traditional way by straightening her smile with braces fixed to the front of her teeth. It's an effective treatment, but the metallic hardware can overwhelm a person's appearance.
With her various roles in the public spotlight, Cyrus and her family wanted an effective but out-of-sight method for moving her teeth. They chose a relatively new one called lingual braces. Unlike traditional braces, the hardware for lingual braces is fixed on the back of the teeth (or the tongue side, hence the term “lingual”).
Lingual braces can correct any bite problem labial (“lip”) braces can, just through different mechanics of movement. Its main appeal is that the hardware is hidden behind the teeth, so only you and your orthodontist need know you're wearing braces.
There is also less risk of damage to the mouth or the braces themselves if you're in a sport or profession where you're at high risk for facial blows. And unlike patients with traditional braces, you'll have an unobstructed view of your progress over the course of treatment.
Lingual braces do tend to cost more than traditional braces. Some patients also have difficulty at first with speaking and tongue comfort, though most grow accustomed to the braces within a couple of weeks. Because lingual braces are relatively new, there's been a limited number of orthodontists offering it.
But lingual braces are just one of the ways to straighten teeth. Modern dentistry offers several ways to give you your dream smile. If you have dental problems or would like to improve the look of your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation, and we can discuss your options. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Lingual Braces” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Think dental implants only replace individual teeth? Think again—this premier technology can also support other kinds of restorations to provide better stability and comfort. And, they also help improve bone health when incorporated with any type of tooth replacement options, especially dentures.
Although traditional dentures have enjoyed a long, successful history as a tooth replacement solution, they can interfere with bone health. That’s because regular dentures fit in the mouth by resting on the bony ridges of the jaw, which has implications for the bone.
As living tissue, bone goes through a growth cycle with older bone cells dying and dissolving and newer cells forming to take their place. The teeth play a role in this growth cycle — the forces generated when we chew travel up through the teeth and help stimulate bone growth. When teeth go missing, however, so does this stimulus.
Traditional dentures can’t replace this missing stimulus. In fact, the constant pressure of dentures on the jaw may even accelerate bone loss. A sign this is happening occurs when the dentures’ once tight fit begins to loosen and they become uncomfortable to wear.
Implant-supported dentures can help eliminate this problem. We first surgically place a few implants in the jaw, the number determined by which jaw (the lower requires less) and whether the denture is removable or fixed. If removable, the denture has connective points that match the implant locations — you simply connect them with the implants. If fixed, the denture is screwed into the implants to hold it in place.
So, how does this help bone health? For one, the denture no longer puts as much pressure on the jaw ridges—the main support comes from the implants. And, the implants themselves encourage bone stimulation: The titanium in the implant has a special affinity with bone cells that naturally grow and adhere to its metal surface. This natural integration between implant and bone can stop bone loss and may even help reverse it.
If you’re interested in implant-supported dentures, you’ll first need to undergo a full dental exam with your dentist. These restorations aren’t appropriate for all dental situations. But, if they can work for you, you may be able to enjoy the benefits of an implant-supported restoration.
If you would like more information on implant-supported 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
Over the last century effectively treating a decayed tooth has often required removing any decayed structure with drilling and then filling the remaining cavity. While this approach does save teeth that might otherwise be lost, it can also result in a fair amount of healthy structure removed in the process.
But continuing advances in dentistry are now making possible a new approach to tooth decay treatment that preserves as much of the healthy portions of tooth as possible. This new way is often referred to as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
The primary goal of MID treatment is to intercept and treat decay as early as possible to minimize tooth damage. It begins with helping patients identify their own individual risk factors for decay such as the presence of disease-causing bacteria, the adequacy of their saliva flow, or their lifestyle and dietary habits. We then recommend changes or preventive measures to reduce those risks.
The next step in MID is using various diagnostic technologies to find decay as early as possible. X-rays continue to play a major role, but dentists are also using dental microscopy to magnify the earliest forms of decay. Many also utilize laser fluorescence, infrared photography and optical scanning to further “see” decay difficult to detect with the naked eye.
In regard to treatments, MID adopts the adage “less is more.” If caught early enough, we can encourage the re-mineralization of enamel that acid has eroded with CPP-ACP, a substance acquired from milk, or strengthen teeth with topical fluoride applications. Instead of the dental drill, many dentists now turn to air abrasion for decay removal, equipment that emits a fine stream of abrasive particles that harms less healthy structure than a drill.
And if lasers continue to develop at their current pace, we’ll be able to use this technology to perform much more precise decay treatment than possible with manual instruments. As a result, we’ll be able to treat decayed teeth with less invasive means to preserve as much healthy structure as possible.
As these and other developments continue, MID promises a bright future for preventing and treating tooth decay. As a result, there’ll be less tooth structure loss and more attractive and healthy smiles.
If you would like more information on the latest techniques for treating tooth decay, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
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