Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.
People improve their smiles for a lot of reasons: to better their career prospects, to put some juice in their social lives or just to do something special for themselves. But you may have an even stronger reason: a once-in-a-lifetime event—maybe your wedding day—is coming up soon.
You have several options for transforming your smile for the big day—and some are even quite economical. Here are 4 affordable ways to make your smile beautiful for that forever moment.
Cleanings. While dental cleanings should already be part of your regular dental care, scheduling one right before a big event can do wonders for your smile. Not only can your hygienist remove any lingering dull and dingy plaque and tartar, but they can polish your teeth for a brighter shine. Remember, though: dental cleanings support your own hygiene efforts, they don't replace them. Your own daily practice of brushing and flossing will also help you maintain a beautiful smile.
Teeth Whitening. You can also get an extra boost of brightness with a tooth whitening procedure. Using a professional bleaching solution and other techniques, your dentist can lighten your smile to your tastes, from a more natural hue to dazzling white. The whitening effect, though, is temporary, so plan to see your dentist no more than a few weeks before your big day.
Bonding. Perhaps a tiny chip is all that stands between you and a knockout smile. Your dentist may be able to repair that and other minor defects by bonding tooth-colored materials to the chip site. These composite resin materials have the shine of enamel and can be color-blended to match your tooth's natural shade. Composite resins are also fairly rugged, although you should avoid biting down on hard foods or objects.
Veneers. Although more expensive than the previous options mentioned, veneers are still affordable compared to crowns or bridgework. Usually made of thin layers of dental porcelain, dentists bond veneers to the front of teeth to mask mild to moderate problems like heavy staining, disfiguration and minor gaps. But because veneers are custom-fabricated by a dental lab, you'll need to plan them with your dentist at least six months before your event. The resulting change to your smile, though, may well be worth the wait.
If you would like more information on transforming your smile for a special event, 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 “Planning Your Wedding Day Smile.”
Although periodontal (gum) disease usually affects your gums first, your teeth may eventually suffer. That’s because the disease can damage both attaching gum tissues and supporting bone.
One advanced sign of this is when one or more teeth become loose. A loose tooth is an alarm bell that you’re about to lose it.
Fortunately, we can often treat loose diseased teeth with a two-phase approach. First and foremost, we need to bring the gum infection under control by removing plaque and calculus (tartar) — the “fuel” for the infection — from all tooth and gum surfaces. Depending on how extensive it is, we have options: we can use specially designed hand instruments to remove plaque and calculus, ultrasonic equipment that loosens and flushes plaque and calculus away, or, if necessary, conventional or laser surgery.
Depending on the extent of the infection, in some cases we may need to use regenerative surgical techniques like gum and bone grafting to replace lost tissue. Healing takes time, though, which leads to the second phase of treatment — securing the loose tooth during gum healing.
The most common way is through a bite adjustment, where teeth are altered to equilibrate chewing forces evenly. This results in all the teeth being hit at the same time allowing the loose teeth to heal and tighten up.
Another option is splinting teeth together. Although there are different methods, the basic idea is to join the loose teeth with stable teeth like pickets in a fence. One way is to bond splinting material across the back surfaces of the involved teeth. Another way is to cut in a small channel across the teeth and insert and bond a rigid strip of metal to splint the teeth in place.
The splint is usually a temporary measure while the gums heal. In some situations, though, we may need to perform a permanent splint by crowning the affected teeth and then splinting the crowns together. If you have a grinding habit we may also prescribe a night guard to limit the damage done while you sleep.
Before deciding on which technique is best for you, we would first need to evaluate the health of the affected teeth to see whether the effort would be worth it. It could be the tooth’s supporting bone structure has become so deteriorated that it might be better to extract the tooth and consider an implant or other replacement. First, though, we would attempt if at all practical to save the tooth — and the sooner we begin treating it, the better your chances for such an outcome.
If you would like more information on loose teeth and gum disease, 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”