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.
While not as prevalent as adults, teenagers can have missing teeth, usually from injury or from never having been formed. Fortunately, life-like dental implants can replace missing teeth. But unfortunately for teens, implants aren't usually a good option—yet.
That's because a teenager's jaws are still growing, and will continue until early adulthood. Dental implants don't adjust to this growth like natural teeth and will eventually look out of place. It's best, then, to consider a temporary restoration for a teenager. And, there are two excellent options: one removable and one fixed.
The first is a removable partial denture (RPD). Like a full denture, an RPD has an acrylic base that resembles gum tissue, to which prosthetic (false) teeth are attached to match the positions of the missing teeth. It's usually held in place with metal or nylon clips that slide under part of the natural teeth at the gum line.
RPDs are versatile and durable. But they're not designed to be worn indefinitely, so they can be damaged if subjected to excessive biting forces like biting into something hard. And, peer-pressured teens may also feel self-consciousness about wearing a “denture.”
The other option is a bonded bridge. It's similar to a traditional bridge, except how it's supported in the mouth. A traditional bridge gains its support from the crowns on each end attached to natural teeth, which must be permanently altered for them. By contrast, a bonded bridge has strips of dental material extending from both sides of its back that are bonded to the back of the adjacent natural teeth.
With the bonding material behind the bridge, it can't be seen—and the natural teeth won't require permanent alteration. But a bonded bridge is usually more costly than an RPD and less secure than a traditional bridge. And not every teen is a viable candidate for one: issues like how the teeth fit together and if the teen has a tooth grinding habit could be strikes against this fixed option.
Your dentist can help you sort out the best of these options for your teen. If cared for and maintained properly, either restoration can buy you time until your teen is ready for dental implants.
If you would like more information on restoring a teenager's smile, 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 “Temporary Tooth Replacement for Teens: What Are the Options?”
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that produces widespread pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints. The pain, muscle spasms and tingling it causes can disrupt sleep, alter moods and impair memory function.
Dealing with just this one condition can be overwhelming. But did you know 3 out 4 fibromyalgia patients also develop chronic pain and dysfunction involving their jaw joints? Known collectively as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), these jaw joint problems cause pain, muscle spasms and difficulty moving the jaws that can interfere with eating and speaking. TMD can also contribute to headaches and earaches.
Many researchers believe this prevalence of TMD among fibromyalgia patients stems from both conditions originating from the same primary cause—a malfunction within the central nervous system. In both cases, the brain and spinal cord may not be able to process pain signals in a normal fashion. This malfunction could also be generating and amplifying pain signals even when nerves are receiving no stimulation.
For decades now, the most effective treatment strategy for TMD has been to manage the symptoms with physical therapy and exercises, thermal therapy or medications. Relief for fibromyalgia has depended on medication and relaxation techniques like biofeedback therapy. But with the evidence of some connection between the two conditions, it may be helpful to coordinate treatment for both with a team approach involving all your healthcare providers, rather than treat them separately.
To that end, make sure both your dentist or physician treating you for TMD and your physician treating your fibromyalgia each know about the other condition. Consulting together, your healthcare team may find treatments (like certain drugs that counteract neurotransmitter imbalances) that might help reduce symptoms in both conditions. And cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation and other therapeutic pain management techniques can help you cope with the pain.
Continued research into these two debilitating conditions and the possible links between them may have an effect on how we treat both. A holistic approach to treating them could be the wave of the future.
If you would like more information on the links between TMD and other chronic pain conditions, 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 “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Tooth enamel, to play on a phrase from Shakespeare, is made of “sterner stuff.” The strongest substance in the body, enamel can take years of biting and chewing and keep on going.
It does have one nemesis, though—mouth acid, which can soften and erode enamel’s mineral content. This is less of a concern if you have healthy saliva flow, because saliva neutralizes acid in thirty minutes to an hour after an acid attack and can also help re-mineralize the enamel. Daily brushing and flossing also help curb mouth acid by reducing the bacteria that produces it.
But as effective as saliva is at neutralizing mouth acidity, it can be overwhelmed by outside acid derived through certain foods and beverages. In the past couple of decades, at least two of these acid sources have grown in prominence: energy drinks and, believe it or not, sports drinks.
Just how acidic are they? The pH scale runs from 1 to 14, with acidity on the low end and alkalinity on the higher (7 is neutral). Tooth enamel begins dissolving below 5.5. Laboratory tests have pegged the average pH of energy drinks at 3.05 and sports drinks, 2.91.
Because of their acidity, frequent energy or sports drink consumption will bring mouth pH into the danger zone for tooth enamel. It’s even more likely if these beverages are sipped over an extended period, which can prevent saliva from getting ahead of any newly introduced acid.
Keeping your distance from these beverages is probably the safest bet. But if you do imbibe occasionally, follow these common sense tips:
- Avoid sipping the beverage over long periods—and try to limit drinking them to meal times;
- After drinking a beverage, wash your mouth out with water and wait an hour to brush to give your saliva time to neutralize any acid.
- Practice consistent, daily brushing and flossing.
Above all, keep a healthy respect for acidic foods and beverages like energy and sports drinks and don’t overuse them. Your tooth enamel will appreciate it.
If you would like more information on the effect of sports and energy drinks on 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 “Think Before You Drink Sports and Energy Beverages.”
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