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?”
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.”
Can you have healthy teeth and still have gum disease? Absolutely! And if you don’t believe us, just ask actor David Ramsey. The cast member of TV hits such as Dexter and Arrow said in a recent interview that up to the present day, he has never had a single cavity. Yet at a routine dental visit during his college years, Ramsey’s dentist pointed out how easily his gums bled during the exam. This was an early sign of periodontal (gum) disease, the dentist told him.
“I learned that just because you don’t have cavities, doesn’t mean you don’t have periodontal disease,” Ramsey said.
Apparently, Ramsey had always been very conscientious about brushing his teeth but he never flossed them.
“This isn’t just some strange phenomenon that exists just in my house — a lot of people who brush don’t really floss,” he noted.
Unfortunately, that’s true — and we’d certainly like to change it. So why is flossing so important?
Oral diseases such as tooth decay and periodontal disease often start when dental plaque, a bacteria-laden film that collects on teeth, is allowed to build up. These sticky deposits can harden into a substance called tartar or calculus, which is irritating to the gums and must be removed during a professional teeth cleaning.
Brushing teeth is one way to remove soft plaque, but it is not effective at reaching bacteria or food debris between teeth. That’s where flossing comes in. Floss can fit into spaces that your toothbrush never reaches. In fact, if you don’t floss, you’re leaving about a thirdÂ to half of your tooth surfaces unclean — and, as David Ramsey found out, that’s a path to periodontal disease.
Since then, however, Ramsey has become a meticulous flosser, and he proudly notes that the long-ago dental appointment “was the last we heard of any type of gum disease.”
Let that be the same for you! Just remember to brush and floss, eat a good diet low in sugar, and come in to the dental office for regular professional cleanings.
If you would like more information on flossing or periodontal disease, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Understanding Gum (Periodontal) Disease.”
In the sports world, athletes are always looking for an edge. And it’s not just college or professional sports—even Little Leaguers are focused on enhancing their performance.
That’s why sports and energy drinks have rocketed in popularity. With marketing pitches promising to increase stamina or replace lost nutrients from strenuous workouts, it’s not unusual to find these beverages in sports bags or the team water cooler.
But there’s a downside to them regarding your dental health—they’re often high in sugar and acidity. Both drink types could increase your risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease over time.
Sugar is a primary food source for the bacteria that can trigger a gum infection. They also produce acid, which at high levels can erode tooth enamel and lead to tooth decay. The risk for enamel erosion also increases with the drink’s acidity.
You can lessen your risk of these unpleasant outcomes by restricting your consumption of these beverages. In fact, unless your sports activity is highly strenuous for long periods, your best hydration choice is usually water.
But if you do drink a sports or energy drink for an extra lift, be sure to take these precautions for the sake of your teeth:
Try to drink them only at mealtimes. Continually sipping on these drinks between meals never gives your saliva a chance to neutralize mouth acid. Reserving acidic foods and beverages for mealtimes will allow saliva to catch up until the next meal.
Rinse with water after your drink. Water usually has a neutral pH. This can help dilute mouth acid and reduce the mouth’s overall acidity.
Don’t brush right after drinking or eating. Increased acid that can occur right after drinking or eating can immediately soften tooth enamel, but saliva can neutralize and help restore minerals to tooth enamel within an hour. Brushing during this period could remove tiny bits of the enamel’s minerals.
Taking these precautions will help keep sports or energy drinks from eroding your tooth enamel. Once it’s gone, you won’t be able to get it back.
If you would like more information on protecting your tooth enamel, 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 Bathe Teeth in Erosive Acids.”
Although toothaches are common, not all tooth pain originates from the same source. But regardless of its cause, you need to take prompt action to find out and begin treatment.
Sensitive teeth, for example, usually cause a quick stab of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold or when you bite down. If the pain lasts only a second or two, you may have a small area of decay in a tooth, a loose filling or an exposed root. The latter often occurs either because of over-aggressive brushing or periodontal (gum) disease. In both cases, the gums may have shrunk back or receded to expose the root surface.
A sharp pain when biting down may be a sign of decay or a loose filling; it could also mean you have a fractured or cracked tooth. For any of those causes, you'll need treatment to repair the problem and relieve the pain.
You may also experience a lingering tooth pain ranging from dull to sharp, or localized to one tooth or seeming to radiate from a general area, such as above the upper jaw. There are a number of possible causes, but two prominent ones are an abscess (a localized area of infection that's become inflamed) or deep decay within the pulp, the heart of a tooth.
This usually calls for a root canal treatment for the affected tooth. In this procedure we drill an access hole into the pulp and clear it of infected and dead tissue. We then fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals with a special filling and seal the access hole. Later, we bond a permanent artificial crown to the tooth to further protect it from re-infection.
Whether your pain is momentary or lingering, dull or sharp, you should see us as soon as possible to determine its cause. You should still see us even if sharp, lingering pain goes away — this could simply mean the infected nerves in the pulp have died but not the infection. The sooner you have the cause of your pain treated, the better your chances of a happy and less costly outcome.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what to do about it, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
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