One of the top concerns in public health today is exposure to the metallic element mercury within the environment. At abnormal levels, mercury can have a toxic effect on our nervous systems and cause other health problems.
These concerns over mercury have also increased attention on one material in dentistry that has included the metal in its makeup for over a century — dental amalgam for filling teeth. Amalgam is a metal alloy that can include, in addition to mercury, silver, tin, and copper. When first mixed dental amalgam is a moldable material used for fillings in prepared teeth. It then hardens into a durable restoration that can withstand biting forces.
While the use of amalgam has declined with the introduction of life-like colored fillings, it's still used for teeth like molars subject to high biting forces. With what we now know about the ill effects of mercury (which can make up to half of an amalgam mixture) is it safe to continue its use?
The American Dental Association has performed extensive research into amalgam safety. They've found that mercury is stabilized by the other metals in the amalgam. This prevents "free" molecules of mercury, the real source of harm to health, from escaping into the blood stream in the form of vapor. Although trace amounts of mercury vapor from the amalgam are released as a person chews, those levels are well below the threshold that could cause harm.
From a patient standpoint, the biggest drawback to dental amalgam isn't safety — it's the appearance of teeth it's used on. Silver fillings aren't considered attractive. And now there are viable filling alternatives that not only look like natural teeth but can withstand biting forces almost as well as amalgam. These materials include composite resins, mixtures of glass or quartz within resin, or glass and resin ionomers. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages depending on how and where they're applied.
After a thorough dental examination, we'll be able to advise you on what filling material will work best to produce the best result. And if we do suggest dental amalgam you can rest assured it will be a safe choice.
If you would like more information on the safety of dental amalgam, 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?”
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Refined sugar is a prime food source for disease-causing oral bacteria. As bacteria consume sugar they produce high levels of acid that over time can erode enamel and leave a tooth vulnerable for decay.
The solution to stopping this vicious process is simple: cut back on eating refined sugar. The reality, though, is a bit more complicated. Many of us seem genetically hard-wired with a “sweet tooth,” perhaps a remnant of our early ancestors' sense that sweet foods were a safe means to obtain energy.
Food manufacturers likewise don't help with making this dietary change — the number of items with added sugar has ballooned over the last several decades. We can trace a lot of this back to the unintended consequences of past government guidelines that called for removing fat from processed foods. But this also removed flavor, so manufacturers began adding sugar (under a myriad of names) to compensate.
Sugar consumption is now a hot health topic for its suspected connection with inflammatory diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as dental health. We now have a love-hate relationship with sugar — we want to show it the door but we can't quite bring ourselves to let it go.
The situation has created a market for artificial sweeteners. The amount and types of sugar alternatives has exploded since saccharine first emerged in the early 1960s. With these increased choices, though, there have also been increased concerns over their health impact, including in the mouth.
This concern has prompted numerous research studies. The conclusion: artificial sweeteners don't adversely affect the health of most people. And, from a dental perspective, artificial sweeteners can have a positive impact on teeth and gum health because unlike refined sugar they don't promote oral bacterial growth.
In fact, one particular sweetener may be even more beneficial to your teeth: xylitol. This sweetener, which comes from a sugar alcohol that oral bacteria can't digest, is often found in chewing gums, hard candies or mints. Â In effect, xylitol “starves out” bacteria to help prevent tooth decay.
From a dental perspective, replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener (especially xylitol) can be advantageous. And less sugar could mean more good news after your next dental checkup.
If you would like more information on artificial sweeteners, 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 “Artificial Sweeteners.”
Via a recent Instagram post, pop diva Ariana Grande became the latest young celebrity to publicly acknowledge a dental milestone: having her wisdom teeth removed. The singer of hits such as “Break Free” and “Problem” posted an after-surgery picture of herself (wearing her signature cat-eye eyeliner), with a caption addressed to her teeth: “Peace out, final three wisdom teeth. It’s been real.”
With the post, Grande joined several other celebs (including Lily Allen, Paris Hilton and Emile Hirsch) who have shared their dental surgery experience with fans. Will "wisdom teeth removal" become a new trending topic on social media? We aren’t sure — but we can explain a bit about the procedure, and why many younger adults may need it.
Technically called the “third molars,” wisdom teeth usually begin to emerge from the gums between the ages of 17 and 25 — presumably, around the same time that a certain amount of wisdom emerges. Most people have four of these big molars, which are located all the way in the back of the mouth, on the left and right sides of the upper and lower jaws.
But when wisdom teeth begin to appear, there’s often a problem: Many people don’t have enough space in their jaws to accommodate them. When these molars lack sufficient space to fully erupt (emerge), they are said to be “impacted.” Impacted teeth can cause a number of serious problems: These may include pain, an increased potential for bacterial infections, periodontal disease, and even the formation of cysts (pockets of infection below the gum line), which can eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
In most cases, the best treatment for impacted wisdom teeth is extraction (removal) of the problem teeth. Wisdom tooth extraction is a routine, in-office procedure that is usually performed under local anesthesia or “conscious sedation,” a type of anesthesia where the patient remains conscious (able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli), but is free from any pain or distress. Anti-anxiety medications may also be given, especially for those who are apprehensive about dental procedures.
So if you find you need your wisdom teeth extracted, don’t be afraid to “Break Free” like Ariana Grande did; whether you post the results on social media is entirely up to you. If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Although usually an orderly process, some permanent teeth don't come in as they should. In fact, they may not come in at all and remain hidden in the gum — a situation called impaction. This creates multiple problems for function, health and, in the case of front canines, appearance.
Canines are the longer and more pointed teeth on each side of the front-most incisors. They help tear and cut food during chewing, a function impaction eliminates. Besides a higher risk for developing abscesses (isolated areas of infection) and cysts, they can also put pressure on neighboring teeth and damage their roots or cause them to erupt abnormally.
Dentists often remove impacted wisdom and other back teeth to lessen these potential problems. Removing canines, though, has additional considerations: besides compromising ideal chewing function, missing canines often create an unattractive smile.
But before considering removal, there's another technique we might be able to use to save the canines and actually draw them down through the gums to their correct position. It's usually part of an overall orthodontic plan to correct a poor bite (malocclusion).
After pinpointing their exact position with x-rays or CT scanning, a surgeon surgically exposes the impacted canines' crowns through the gums. They then bond small brackets to the crowns and attach a small gold chain to each bracket. They fasten the other end of the chains to orthodontic hardware that exerts downward pressure on the impacted teeth. Over several months this pressure can help move the teeth into their normal positions.
Unfortunately, this technique isn't always advisable: one or more of the impacted teeth may be in a difficult position to attempt it. It's usually best in these situations to remove the teeth, usually sooner rather than later for the sake of neighboring teeth.
Fortunately, with today's advanced restorative techniques, we can eventually replace the canines with dental implants, although that's best undertaken after the patient enters adulthood. In the meantime, we can utilize orthodontic means to preserve the open space and provide a temporary restorative solution.
Whatever route taken, these teeth don't have to become a source of problems, especially for your appearance. Whether through orthodontics or restorative dentistry, impacted canines don't have to ruin your smile.
If you would like more information on various orthodontic procedures, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
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