Posts for: September, 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.
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”