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?”
A loose primary (“baby”) tooth is often a cause for celebration. A loose permanent tooth, however, is a cause for concern. A permanent tooth shouldn't even wiggle.
If you have a loose tooth, it's likely you have a deeper dental problem. Here are the top underlying causes for loose teeth.
Gum disease. Teeth are held in place by an elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. But advanced periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection usually caused by film buildup on teeth called dental plaque, can damage the ligament and cause it to detach. If it's not treated, it could lead to tooth loss.
Bite-related trauma. A normal bite helps balance out the forces generated when we chew so they don't damage the teeth. But if a misaligned tooth protrudes higher from the jaw, the opposing tooth will likely create more downward pressure on it while chewing. This can stress the tooth's supporting ligament to the point of looseness.
Self-inflicted trauma. While they may be trendy, tongue jewelry can cause dental damage. A wearer who clicks the “barbell” of a tongue stud against their teeth could be creating conditions conducive for gum damage and bone loss, which can cause tooth looseness. Similarly, taking orthodontics into your own hands could also damage your teeth, especially if you have undiagnosed gum disease.
Genetics. Although you can't prevent it, the type of resistance or susceptibility you inherited from your parents (as well as your dental anatomy) can cause you dental problems. Thinner gum tissues, especially around the roots, can make you more susceptible to gum disease or dental trauma, which in turn could contribute to tooth looseness.
There are things you can do to lessen your chance of loose teeth. Brush and floss every day to remove disease-causing bacterial plaque and see a dentist regularly for cleanings to reduce your risk of gum disease. If you have any misaligned teeth, consult with an orthodontist about possible treatment. And avoid oral jewelry and DIY orthodontics.
If you do notice a loose tooth, see us as soon as possible. We'll need to diagnose the underlying cause and create a treatment plan for it. We may also need to splint the tooth to its neighbors to stabilize it and reduce your risk of losing it permanently.
If you would like more information on tooth mobility, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”
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.
While sports like football, basketball and soccer have exploded in popularity over the last few decades, many Americans still have a soft spot for the granddaddy of them all: baseball. While technology has changed many aspects of the game, many of its endearing traditions live on.
Unfortunately, one baseball tradition isn’t so endearing and definitely hazardous to health—tobacco, primarily the smokeless variety. Players and coaches alike, even down to the high school level, have promoted or at least tolerated its use.
But there are signs this particular baseball tradition is losing steam. Not long ago, the San Francisco Giants became the first major league baseball team to prohibit tobacco in its home stadium—on the field as well as in the stands. The move was largely in response to a law passed by the City of San Francisco, but it does illustrate a growing trend to discourage tobacco use in baseball.
While smoking, chewing or dipping tobacco can certainly impact a person’s overall health, it can be especially damaging to the teeth, gums and mouth. Our top oral health concern with tobacco is cancer: Research has shown some correlation between tobacco use (especially smokeless) and a higher risk of oral cancer.
You need look no further than the highest ranks of baseball itself to notice a link between tobacco and oral cancer. Although from different eras, Babe Ruth and Tony Gwynn, both avid tobacco users, died from oral cancer. Other players like pitcher Curt Schilling have been diagnosed and treated for oral cancer.
Cancer isn’t the only threat tobacco poses to oral health. The nicotine in tobacco can constrict blood vessels in the mouth; this in turn reduces the normal flow of nutrients and disease-fighting immune cells to the teeth and gums. As a result, tobacco users are much more susceptible to contracting tooth decay and gum disease than non-users, and heal more slowly after treatment.
That’s why it’s important, especially in youth baseball, to discourage tobacco use on the field. While most of baseball’s traditions are worthy of preservation, the chapter on tobacco needs to close.
The 2020s are here, so throw those “new decade” parties! Well, maybe. Some of your party guests might insist the Twenties won't begin until January 1, 2021. For some reason, feelings can run hot on both sides of this “debate,” enough to warm up everyone's eggnog. Instead, steer the conversation to something a little less controversial: how to achieve the best possible dental health in the upcoming decade (whenever it comes!).
Sadly, many folks don't pay attention to their dental health until it's in dire need of attention. The better approach is to be proactive, not reactive: doing things now to ensure healthy teeth and gums years, and decades, later.
If you say brush and floss daily, you're already ahead of the game. Nothing you do personally promotes a healthy mouth more than dedicated oral hygiene. But there's one more critical piece to proactive dental care—a solid partnership with us, your dental professionals. Working together, we can help ensure you remain healthy dental-wise for the long term.
To understand the value of this partnership, it helps to think of dental care as a four-phased cycle:
Identifying your individual dental risks. Because of our individual physical and genetic makeup, each of us faces different sets of risks to our dental health. Over the course of regular dental visits, we can identify and assess those weaknesses, such as a propensity for gum disease or structural tooth problems due to past tooth decay.
Designing your personal care program. Depending on your risk profile assessment, we can develop an ongoing personal care program to minimize those risks. Part of this risk-lowering plan will be identifying recommended prevention measures like enhanced fluoride applications or areas that need correction or treatment.
Treating dental problems promptly. The key to the best possible dental health is treating any arising problems as soon as possible. Diseases like tooth decay or gum disease only get worse with time and cause more damage the longer they go untreated. Treatment, though, can also extend to less urgent matters: Straightening crooked teeth, for example, can make it easier to keep them clean.
Maintaining your optimum level of health. Through comprehensive treatment and care, we can help you reach “a good place” in your dental health. But we can't stop there: We'll continue to monitor for health changes and maintain the good practices we've already established through regular care. And with any new developments, we begin the cycle again to keep you focused on optimum dental health.
No one knows what their life will be like passing through the next decade. But one thing's for certain: A dental care partnership with us can help you achieve the health you desire for your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information about ongoing dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Successful Dental Treatment” and “Cost-Saving Treatment Alternatives.”
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