With all the new tooth-colored fillings for cavities, it's easy to overlook metal amalgam. While this mainstay of dental care for over a century might not be as attractive as composite resins or glass and resin ionomers, it still has the advantage of strength and durability.
Amalgam is a stable metal alloy usually made up of silver, tin, copper and mercury. The metals are proportioned and mixed precisely to guard against “free” mercury molecules, which could pose a health hazard. The mixture is pliable at first, but then sets hard once molded into the prepared area of the tooth.
Besides strength, amalgam's other advantages include low cost, high resistance to wear and biocompatibility (not toxic to the body or allergy-producing). At the same time, it can require more tooth structure removal to accommodate a filling and cause higher sensitivity to temperature for a while after installation. Its main disadvantage, however, is appearance — it's now considered unacceptable from an aesthetic point of view to use it in visible areas like the front teeth.
Because of this, materials resembling natural tooth color are coming into vogue, especially as their strength improves. Still, dental amalgam continues to play a useful role, especially in less visible back teeth with higher chewing forces.
One past concern about dental amalgam is the inclusion of mercury in the alloy. As mentioned before, mercury is hazardous in a “free” form when not knit microscopically with other metals; as such it can emit a vapor that could enter the bloodstream and damage the nervous system. But after several studies by various organizations, the American Dental Association has concluded amalgam's precise mixture prevents the mercury from taking this form: although some vapor is given off during chewing it's far too low in concentration to pose any danger.
Dental amalgam continues to be an effective choice for fillings. Whether it's the right choice for you will depend on the type and location of a tooth to be filled, and whether durability is a higher concern than appearance. If we do recommend an amalgam filling, you can be assured it's a safe and lasting choice.
If you would like more information on your choices for dental fillings, 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 “Silver Fillings — Safe or Unsafe?”
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.
Tooth decay doesn't occur out of thin air, but is the end result of bacteria feeding on sugar, multiplying and producing acid. High acidity erodes tooth enamel and creates an environment for cavity development.
Modern dentistry can effectively treat cavities and often save the tooth from further damage. But you don't have to wait: You can reduce your chances of cavities by managing risk factors that contribute to decay.
Here are 4 top risk factors for tooth decay and what you can do about them.
Poor saliva flow. Saliva neutralizes acid and helps restore minerals to enamel after acid contact. But your enamel may not have full protection against acid if you have diminished saliva flow, often due to certain medications. You can help increase your saliva by consulting with your doctor about drug alternatives, drinking more water or using a saliva boosting product. Smoking can also inhibit saliva, so consider quitting if you smoke.
Eating habits. High sugar content in your diet can increase bacterial growth and acid production. Reducing your overall sugar consumption, therefore, can reduce your risk of decay. Continuous snacking can also increase your decay risk, preventing saliva from bringing your mouth back to its normal neutral pH. Instead, limit your snack periods to just a few times a day, or reserve all your eating for mealtimes.
Dental plaque. Daily eating creates a filmy buildup on the teeth called dental plaque. If not removed, plaque can then harden into a calcified form called calculus, an ideal haven for bacteria. You can help curtail this accumulation by thoroughly brushing and flossing daily, followed by dental cleanings at least every six months. These combined hygiene practices can drastically reduce your cavity risk.
Your genetics. Researchers have identified up to 50 specific genes that can influence the risk for cavities. As a result, individuals with similar dietary and hygiene practices can have vastly different experiences with tooth decay. Besides continuing good lifestyle habits, the best way to manage a genetic disposition for dental disease is not to neglect ongoing professional dental care.
If you would like more information on managing your tooth decay risk factors, 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
Drilling teeth is an essential part of repairing and restoring the damage caused by tooth decay. For generations dentists have relied on the dental drill with its rotating burr to remove decayed and damaged tooth material.
But while the dental drill is effective it also has its disadvantages. In the process of removing decayed material it inadvertently removes healthy structure near the target material. It often requires anesthesia to deaden the work area. And its noise and vibration are often unsettling to patients.
There is a growing alternative, though: air abrasion, a technology that's been around since the mid-20th Century. But recent advances in controlling the dust created by using abrasion, as well as new tooth-colored bonding materials to replace tooth structure, have sparked new interest among dentists and patients alike.
Also known as particle abrasion, this drill alternative uses a pressurized stream of fine particles to remove decayed material. Using a hand wand a dentist can precisely aim the stream of particles (usually aluminum oxide) to the specific areas of decay or softened material that need to be removed. As a result, it removes only a fraction of healthy tooth structure compared to traditional drilling. Air abrasion has also proven effective for removing staining without harming enamel.
Air abrasion also eliminates the sound and vibration associated with dental drills, and may not always require local anesthesia. On the other hand, it does have some limitations. For one, it's not as effective with larger cavities or working around older fillings. The tooth or teeth to be worked on must be carefully isolated from the rest of the mouth to keep the patient from swallowing the abrasive particles. And without a high-volume suction pump and good isolation protocols, the particles can produce something of a “sandstorm” in the treatment room.
But as air abrasion continues to advance, we may see improvements in these limitations. In a future time, the traditional dental drill may go the way of the horse and buggy.
If you would like more information on air abrasion as an alternative to drilling, 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 “Air Abrasion Technology.”
Vaping, the use of an electronic cigarette or E-cigarette, has exploded in popularity over the last few years. But although touted by proponents as a cleaner and healthier alternative to smoking, vaping has also gained recent notoriety with the rise of lung injuries and even deaths linked to the practice.
But long before these headlines of late, dentists were sounding the alarm about vaping in regard to oral health. There are a number of elements associated with vaping that can make it as hazardous to your teeth and gums as traditional smoking.
Nicotine. While vaping and smoking are different in many ways, they do share one commonality: They both deliver nicotine through the lungs into the bloodstream. Nicotine in turn can constrict blood vessels, including those in the mouth. This restricts the delivery of nutrients and disease-fighting agents to the teeth and gums, increasing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
Flavorings. One of the big appeals of vaping, especially with young people, is the availability of various flavorings. But while they may have cool names like “cotton candy” or “cherry crush,” the additives themselves and the compounds they create in the mouth can irritate and inflame oral membranes. They may also diminish enamel hardness, which dramatically increases tooth decay risk.
Mouth dryness. The vapor produced by an E-cigarette is an aerosol: Many of the solid particles for the various ingredients in the vaping solution are suspended within the vapor. The combination of all these chemicals and compounds can lead to mouth dryness. Not only can this cause an unpleasant feeling, it creates an environment favorable to bacteria that contribute to dental disease.
For the good of both your general and oral health, it's best to avoid vaping. The risks it may pose to your teeth and gums far outweigh any proposed benefits over smoking. The best course if you're a smoker wanting a healthier lifestyle, including for your mouth, is to undergo a medically-supervised tobacco cessation program to quit the habit. That's a far better way than vaping to protect your general and oral health.
If you would like more information on the oral hazards of E-cigarettes, 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 “Vaping and Oral Health.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.