Posts for: December, 2019
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.
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.
If you’ve ever heard your dentist or hygienist talk about “calculus,” they’re not referring to a higher branch of mathematics. The calculus on your teeth is something altogether different.
Calculus, also called tartar, is dental plaque that’s become hardened or “calcified” on tooth surfaces. Plaque begins as soft food particles and bacteria that accumulate on the teeth, and more so if you don’t properly clean your teeth every day. This built-up plaque becomes both home and food source for bacteria that can cause tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Because of this direct link between plaque and/or calculus and dental disease, we encourage everyone to perform two important oral hygiene tasks every day. The first is to floss between your teeth to remove plaque as you are unable to effectively reach those areas with a toothbrush. Once you loosen all the plaque, the other really important task is a thorough brushing of all of the tooth surfaces to remove any plaque that may have accumulated since the last brushing. Doing so every day will catch most of the softer plaque before it becomes calcified.
Once it forms, calculus is impossible to remove by brushing and flossing alone. That’s why you should have regular cleanings performed by a dental professional. Dentists and hygienists have special tools called scalers that allow them to manually remove plaque and calculus, as well as ultrasonic equipment that can vibrate it loose to be flushed away with water.
In fact, you should undergo dental cleanings at least twice a year (or as often as your dentist recommends) even if you religiously brush and floss daily. Calculus forms so easily that it’s nearly inevitable you’ll accumulate some even if you have an effective hygiene regimen. Your dental team can remove hardened deposits of calculus that may have gotten past your own hygiene efforts.
If you haven’t been consistently practicing this kind of daily hygiene, see your dentist to get a fresh start. Not only will they be able to check for any emerging problems, they can clean your teeth of any plaque and calculus buildup so that you’ll be able to start with a “clean” slate.
Calculus can be tenacious, but it not impossible to remove. Don’t let it set you up for an unhealthy experience with your teeth and gums.