Posts for: November, 2017
Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
Before we discuss cosmetic options for transforming your smile, and before any preparations for treatment, there’s one question that needs to be answered: What do you want to be different about your smile?
There’s a common misconception that cosmetic changes to the teeth and gums — a “smile makeover” — is primarily a technical achievement based on rigid principles of beauty. Patients believe they must defer to their dentists for what will look best. But that’s not the entire picture: what’s often lost in the understanding is that it’s your smile — the smile at the end of the process you must be comfortable showing with confidence.
In this regard, there are two types of patients, with no right or wrong view — simply what a patient perceives as the smile they want. Some want the “perfect” smile — the greatest level of regularity between teeth shape, size and alignment and the maximum level of brightness. Others are more comfortable with a “natural” smile, a more subtle look with just enough change to create something new and different. The latter may even desire a less than perfect look that doesn’t “fix” all their imperfections — the ones they believe give their face “character.”
Knowing to which side you lean is important at the outset. It’s then important for you to communicate those expectations with us. While we’re focused on the technical aspects of treatment — tooth length, the lineup of teeth with other facial features or the gum-to-lip distance — only you can express what’s going to be a beautiful yet comfortable smile for you. By meshing the technical requirements with your personal desires, we’re able to formulate a makeover plan that fits you.
It all begins with a comprehensive examination to determine the exact health state of your mouth, and it may be necessary to first perform dental work to improve it. From there we can discuss what is and isn’t possible to change the appearance of your teeth and gums. In the end, we want the same result as you — a beautiful smile you’re happy and confident to show the world.
If you would like more information on smile makeovers, 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 “Great Expectations: Is what you get what you want?”
For some time now you've noticed a painful, burning sensation in your mouth for no apparent reason. It doesn't matter what you eat or drink — or whether you eat or drink — the dry, tingling sensation seems to stay with you.
You may have Burning Mouth Syndrome (BMS). You feel as if your mouth is scalded or burning generally or in a certain area like the lips, tongue or inside of the cheeks. Regardless, the discomfort (which seems to grow as the day wears on) can contribute to irritability, anxiety or depression.
It's not always easy to lock in on the specific cause. BMS has been linked, among other things, to diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, or cancer therapy. It's common among women around the age of menopause, so there's some speculation it could be affected by hormonal changes. It could also be connected with dry mouth (brought on by age or medications), an allergic reaction to toothpaste ingredients, acid reflux or autoimmune disorders.
While there's no single proven treatment for BMS, there are some things you can do to lessen its effects. First, stop habits that cause dry mouth like smoking, drinking alcohol or coffee and eating hot and spicy foods. Second, keep your mouth moist by frequently drinking water or using products that stimulate saliva flow.
You might also try toothpastes without sodium lauryl sulfate (a detergent that can cause skin peeling in some people), whiteners or strong flavorings like cinnamon. If you have chronic dry mouth, speak with your physician about any medications you're taking that might be causing it and seek alternatives. And because stress seems to magnify your symptoms, try to reduce it in your life through relaxation techniques, exercise or group support.
In some cases, BMS may resolve itself over time. In the mean time, making these lifestyle changes could help ease your discomfort.
If you would like more information on burning mouth syndrome, 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 “Burning Mouth Syndrome: A Painful Puzzle.”