Posts for: December, 2019
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.
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
If you’ve ever read online that root canal therapy causes cancer, don’t be alarmed—it doesn’t. What it does do is save a deeply decayed tooth that might otherwise be lost.
Tooth decay is caused by acid produced by bacteria, which dissolves enamel to create a hole or cavity. But it doesn’t stop there: decay can move on to infect the tooth’s innermost layer, the pulp filled with nerves and blood vessels. Unchecked, the resulting infection can travel through the root canals to eventually infect the bone.
A root canal treatment stops the infection before it goes this far. After administering a local anesthetic, we drill a small hole into the tooth to access the pulp chamber and root canals. We then remove all the diseased tissue, disinfect the space and then place a filling within the empty chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. We then seal the access hole and later crown the tooth to further protect and stabilize it.
It’s no exaggeration, then, to say that root canal treatments have saved millions of teeth. So, for all its beneficial effect, why is it considered by some to pose a health danger?
The germ for this notion comes from the early 20th Century when a dentist named Weston Price theorized that leaving a “dead” organ in place would harm the body. Since a root-canaled tooth with the pulp’s living tissue removed is technically no longer viable, it fit the category of “dead” tissue. Thus, according to this theory, maladies like cancer could arise because of the “dead” tooth.
Unfortunately, this theory has found a somewhat new life recently on the internet, even though it was thoroughly investigated and debunked in the 1950s. And as late as 2013, a study published in a journal of the American Medical Association found no increased cancer risk after root canal treatment, and even some evidence for a reduced risk.
So, if your dentist recommends root canal treatment, rest assured it’s needed to save your tooth. Rather than harm your health, it will improve it.
If you would like more information on root canal treatment, 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 “Root Canal Safety.”