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.
A root canal treatment is a highly effective way to save a deeply decayed tooth. Sometimes, though, complications make it difficult or even impossible to perform the traditional procedure. In those cases, we may need to use a different option.
Tooth decay becomes an imminent threat to a tooth's survival if it works its way into the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth. It's only a short advancement from there into the roots by way of the root canals.
In a typical root canal treatment, we access the pulp by drilling a small hole in the biting surface of a back tooth or the back side of a front tooth. We remove all the tissue within the pulp and fill it and the root canals with a special filling to prevent re-infection. After sealing the access hole, we cap the tooth with a crown to further protect it.
Although root canal treatments have a high success rate, re-infection can still occur. Often, a second root canal will save the tooth from the new infection.
In some cases, though, using the traditional procedure might do more harm than good. It's possible we may find extra canals previously undetected branching out from the primary canal at the root end. Canals can calcify and narrow, making them extremely difficult to fill. Subsequent dental work may also prove troublesome: we would have to take the restoration apart, which could further weaken the tooth.
The alternative is a procedure known as an apicoectomy. Instead of accessing the pulp through the crown, we access the root end through the gum tissue. We then focus on removing infected tissue at the tooth's root end, along with a tiny amount of the root tip. We then place a small filling at the end of the root canal (essentially plugging it up) to prevent further infection. We may also perform grafting to encourage bone growth in any voids left by the procedure.
Endodontists, specialists in root canals, have the advanced training and specialized equipment to perform an apicoectomy. With their expertise, they may be able to save your tooth with this specialized procedure when a root canal treatment won't work.
If you would like more information on options for treating decayed teeth, 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 “Apicoectomy: A Surgical Option When Root Canal Treatment Fails.”
After living with braces for a couple of years, the “big reveal” finally happens and you see your new smile for the first time. But then you’re told you have to wear another mouth appliance—around the clock to start and then just at night. After all the new smile excitement, wearing a retainer can be a little anticlimactic.
But this part of your orthodontic treatment is as important as the earlier tooth movement phase. That’s because your new “forever smile” doesn’t necessarily come with a “forever” guaranty. In fact, your teeth could quickly begin moving back to where they were before braces if you don’t wear a retainer.
The reason why is because of a tough but elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament. This ligament lies between the teeth and the jawbone, attaching to both through tiny extending fibers. The periodontal ligament actually does most of the anchoring work to hold your teeth in place.
The ligament is also why we’re able to move your teeth to different positions: As braces apply pressure to the teeth and jaw in the direction of desired movement, the ligament remodels itself to allow the teeth to take up these new positions.
The tissues involved, though, still retain a kind of “memory” of where the teeth used to be. This creates an immediate tendency for the teeth to revert to these old positions. To prevent this, we use a retainer that when worn keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they’ve stabilized and the old tissue “memory” fades.
There are different types of retainers, some removable and some fixed in place. Choosing the best one for a particular patient will depend on the complexity of the bite treatment, the patient’s age and level of self-responsibility and the preferences of the orthodontist. Whichever type of retainer you eventually use, it’s important you wear it to preserve all of the time and effort that went into transforming your smile.
Wearing a retainer might not be high on your “exciting things to do” list. But it’s the best way to guarantee you’ll enjoy your new smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on keeping your new smile after braces, 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 “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Once upon a time, celebrities tried hard to maintain the appearance of red-carpet glamour at all times. That meant keeping the more mundane aspects of their lives out of the spotlight: things like shopping, walking the dog and having oral surgery, for example.
That was then. Today, you can find plenty of celebs posting pictures from the dentist on social media. Take Julianne Hough, for example: In 2011 and 2013, she tweeted from the dental office. Then, not long ago, she shared a video taken after her wisdom teeth were removed in December 2016. In it, the 28-year-old actress and dancer cracked jokes and sang a loopy rendition of a Christmas carol, her mouth filled with gauze. Clearly, she was feeling relaxed and comfortable!
Lots of us enjoy seeing the human side of celebrities. But as dentists, we’re also glad when posts such as these help demystify a procedure that could be scary for some people.
Like having a root canal, the thought of extracting wisdom teeth (also called third molars) makes some folks shudder. Yet this routine procedure is performed more often than any other type of oral surgery. Why? Because wisdom teeth, which usually begin to erupt (emerge from beneath the gums) around age 17-25, have the potential to cause serious problems in the mouth. When these molars lack enough space to fully erupt in their normal positions, they are said to be “impacted.”
One potential problem with impacted wisdom teeth is crowding. Many people don’t have enough space in the jaw to accommodate another set of molars; when their wisdom teeth come in, other teeth can be damaged. Impacted wisdom teeth may also have an increased potential to cause periodontal disease, bacterial infection, and other issues.
Not all wisdom teeth need to be removed; after a complete examination, including x-rays and/or other diagnostic imaging, a recommendation will be made based on each individual’s situation. It may involve continued monitoring of the situation, orthodontics or extraction.
Wisdom tooth extraction is usually done right in the office, often with a type of anesthesia called “conscious sedation.”Â Here, the patient is able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli (such as verbal directions), but remains free from pain. For people who are especially apprehensive about dental procedures, anti-anxiety mediation may also be given. After the procedure, prescription or over-the-counter pain medication may be used for a few days. If you feel like singing a few bars, as Julianne did, it’s up to you.
If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to arrange a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
Vitamins play a key role in your body’s health, including your teeth and gums. A vitamin-deficient diet is an invitation to all sorts of disease.
But what are vitamins? Although they differ individually in what effect they have on the body, they’re all organic compounds found in foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Each in a different way helps with bodily processes.
Vitamin C, for example, helps the body repair tissue. Without it, tissue breaks down easier, as British sailors discovered centuries ago on long sea voyages. Deprived of vitamin C in their diets they soon encountered health issues like bleeding gums. Eating limes — chock full of vitamin C—helped to clear up such problems (and also why they were called “limeys”).
Scientists have discovered thirteen vitamins, four of which—A, D, E and K—are soluble (dissolvable) in fat; the body stores these in the liver and fat tissue where they issue out into the body slowly. The rest—C and eight types of B vitamin—are soluble in water. Unlike the fat-soluble vitamins, these are used quickly and any remaining are excreted from the body.
When it comes to teeth, gums and the mouth, a rich assortment of vitamins helps maintain good oral health. For the teeth especially, vitamin D plays a critical role—it helps the body absorb the mineral calcium necessary for strong bones and teeth. You’ll find this vitamin plentiful in dairy products, but also fatty fish like salmon and tuna.
While vitamins occur naturally in foods, they can be manufactured in the form of dietary supplements. Unfortunately, the world of dietary supplements is a murky one, ungoverned by the restrictions and clinical trials that drugs undergo before they go to market. And, it’s big business: vitamin supplements are promoted as “insurance” for good health.
But while some people have conditions that may require a vitamin supplement, research has shown that most of us can effectively get our vitamins through a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. So, do your teeth and gums (as well as the rest of your body) a favor—eat your fruits and veggies. Along with daily brushing and flossing, getting enough vitamins can go a long way toward keeping your mouth healthy and disease-free.
If you would like more information on nutrition and dental health, 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 “Vitamins & Dietary Supplements: What Every Consumer Should Know.”
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.