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.
Most dental procedures today only require local anesthesia to numb just the affected area. It's a safer approach than general anesthesia: the unconscious state created by putting someone "to sleep" can lead to some unpleasant complications.
But patient comfort involves more than preventing physical pain during a procedure. There's also the emotional factor—many people experience nervousness, anxiety or fear during dental visits. It's especially problematic for an estimated 15% of the population whose dental visit anxiety is so great they often try to avoid dental care altogether.
One option is to use general anesthesia for patients with acute anxiety rather than local anesthesia. This removes them consciously from their anxiety, but they must then be monitored closely for complications.
But there's a safer way to relax patients with high anxiety called intravenous or IV sedation. The method delivers a sedative medication directly into a patient's bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted into a vein. The sedative places the patient in a relaxed "semi-awake" state, taking the edge off their anxiety while still enabling them to respond to verbal commands.
Coupled with local anesthesia, they won't experience any pain and very little if any discomfort. And many of the sedatives used also have an amnesiac effect so that the patient won't remember the procedures being performed.
IV sedation does require monitoring of vital signs, but the patient won't need help maintaining their breathing or heart function. And although the medication can be adjusted to reduce any lingering after-effects, a patient will still need someone to accompany them to and from their visit.
For lesser anxiety or nervousness, dentists sometimes prescribe an oral sedative to take just before a visit. This can help take the edge off your nerves and help you relax. With either method, though, sedation can help you overcome fear and anxiety and have a more pleasant treatment experience.
If you would like more information on IV sedation, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
The long-running hit show Dancing with the Stars has had its share of memorable moments, including a wedding proposal, a wardrobe malfunction, and lots of sharp dance moves. But just recently, one DWTS contestant had the bad luck of taking an elbow to the mouth on two separate occasions—one of which resulted in some serious dental damage.
Nationally syndicated radio personality Bobby Bones received the accidental blows while practicing with his partner, professional dancer Sharna Burgess. “I got hit really hard,” he said. “There was blood and a tooth. [My partner] was doing what she was supposed to do, and my face was not doing what it was supposed to do.”
Accidents like this can happen at any time—especially when people take part in activities where there’s a risk of dental trauma. Fortunately, dentists have many ways to treat oral injuries and restore damaged teeth. How do we do it?
It all depends on how much of the tooth is missing, whether the damage extends to the soft tissue in the tooth’s pulp, and whether the tooth’s roots are intact. If the roots are broken or seriously damaged, the tooth may need to be extracted (removed). It can then generally be replaced with a dental bridge or a state-of-the-art dental implant.
If the roots are healthy but the pulp is exposed, the tooth may become infected—a painful and potentially serious condition. A root canal is needed. In this procedure, the infected pulp tissue is removed and the “canals” (hollow spaces deep inside the tooth) are disinfected and sealed up. The tooth is then restored: A crown (cap) is generally used to replace the visible part above the gum line. A timely root canal procedure can often save a tooth that would otherwise be lost.
For moderate cracks and chips, dental veneers may be an option. Veneers are wafer-thin shells made of translucent material that go over the front surfaces of teeth. Custom-made from a model of your smile, veneers are securely cemented on to give you a restoration that looks natural and lasts for a long time.
It’s often possible to fix minor chips with dental bonding—and this type of restoration can frequently be done in just one office visit. In this procedure, layers of tooth-colored resin are applied to fill in the parts of the tooth that are missing, and then hardened by a special light. While it may not be as long-lasting as some other restoration methods, bonding is a relatively simple and inexpensive technique that can produce good results.
If you would like more information about emergency dental treatment, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Knocked Out Tooth.”
Breathing: You hardly notice it unless you're consciously focused on it—or something's stopping it!
So, take a few seconds and pay attention to your breathing. Then ask yourself this question—are you breathing through your nose, or through your mouth? Unless we're exerting ourselves or have a nasal obstruction, we normally breathe through the nose. This is as nature intended it: The nasal passages act as a filter to remove allergens and other fine particles.
Some people, though, tend to breathe primarily through their mouths even when they're at rest or asleep. And for children, not only do they lose out on the filtering benefit of breathing through the nose, mouth breathing could affect their dental development.
People tend to breathe through their mouths if it's become uncomfortable to breathe through their noses, often because of swollen tonsils or adenoids pressing against the nasal cavity or chronic sinus congestion. Children born with a small band of tissue called a tongue or lip tie can also have difficulty closing the lips or keeping the tongue on the roof of the mouth, both of which encourage mouth breathing.
Chronic mouth breathing can also disrupt children's jaw development. The tongue normally rests against the roof of the mouth while breathing through the nose, which allows it to serve as a mold for the growing upper jaw and teeth to form around. Because the tongue can't be in this position during mouth breathing, it can disrupt normal jaw development and lead to a poor bite.
If you suspect your child chronically breathes through his or her mouth, your dentist may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to check for obstructions. In some cases, surgical procedures to remove the tonsils or adenoids may be necessary.
If there already appears to be problems brewing with the bite, your child may need orthodontic treatment. One example would be a palatal expander, a device that fits below the palate to put pressure on the upper jaw to grow outwardly if it appears to be developing too narrowly.
The main focus, though, is to treat or remove whatever may be causing this tendency to breathe through the mouth. Doing so will help improve a child's ongoing dental development.
If you would like more information on treating chronic mouth breathing, 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 Trouble With Mouth Breathing.”
October is National Orthodontic Health Month, and the more than 18,000 members of the American Association of Orthodontists want you to know the importance of a good bite. Correcting a bite problem can do wonders for your health and well-being—and the added benefit of a more attractive smile can do wonders for your self-image and relationships.
Perhaps, though, you’re well past your teenage years and think you might be too old to consider having your teeth straightened. Not at all: Even if you’re a senior adult, you can still undergo bite correction as long as your overall periodontal health is sound.
But then why go through the effort and expense of orthodontic treatment? Here are 3 top reasons why correcting a poor bite is worth it at any age.
Improve digestion. As we chew during eating, our teeth turn food into digestible bits that our body can easily process for nutrients. Misaligned teeth, though, aren’t as efficient at this first step in the digestion process, causing less efficiency at retrieving nutrients along the way. Correcting your bite could therefore improve your digestion and your health.
Prevent dental disease. While you need to brush and floss every day to prevent tooth decay or gum disease, it’s a lot easier if your teeth are properly aligned. Crooked teeth are more prone to collect and harbor disease-causing plaque that can “hide” from brushing and flossing. Correcting your bite can make it easier to remove plaque, thereby decreasing your risk of a tooth-destroying infection and gum disease that can contribute to chronic inflammation in the body.
Renew your confidence. While the previous two therapeutic reasons are primary for orthodontic treatment, don’t discount the power of an improved smile. Gaining a more attractive smile can boost your confidence in social and business situations—which could change your life. Consider it the added “cherry on top” that accompanies better health and wellness when you correct your bite.
If you’re interested in a healthier life and a more attractive smile, see us for a complete orthodontic evaluation. Even if you’re an older adult, you may still be a good candidate for bite correction. And you might not even need to wear braces: depending on your condition, we may be able to correct your bite with clear aligners that are nearly invisible to others while you’re wearing them.
There are good reasons for improving your bite. The sooner you do, the greater the benefits to your health and confidence.
If you would like more information about orthodontic treatment, please contact us to schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Moving Teeth With Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
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