Posts for: August, 2016
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?”
We often don't realize how important something is until it's gone. Like saliva: you're usually not aware that it's cleaning the mouth, neutralizing mouth acid or helping with digestion. But that could change if your saliva flow drops below normal: your health may soon suffer with your mouth taking the brunt.
In particular, reduced saliva flow increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Both diseases are linked to oral bacteria. While many of the myriad strains in the mouth are beneficial, a few bacteria can infect and inflame gum tissues. Bacteria also produce acid, which can soften and erode enamel and make the teeth more susceptible to decay.
Saliva inhibits bacteria in a number of ways. It first clears the mouth of leftover food so not as much stays behind to form bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. You still need to brush and floss daily to remove plaque, but it's less effective without saliva's cleansing action. Saliva also contains antibodies that destroy disease-causing bacteria and other organisms, which keeps their populations in the mouth low.
One of saliva's most important functions, though, is buffering acid. The mouth's ideal pH level is neutral, but many foods we eat can cause it to become more acidic.Â Even a slight acidic rise after eating can soften the minerals in enamel. But saliva goes to work immediately and usually restores normal pH within a half hour to an hour. It also aids in re-mineralizing the enamel.
For these reasons, it's important for you to find out the cause of chronic dry mouth and treat it. If it's a side effect of your medication, talk to your doctor about an alternative, or drink more water before and after you take your dose. Certain products can also stimulate saliva flow, like chewing gum with xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener that has dental health-protecting properties too.
Although you often don't notice this unsung bodily fluid swishing in your mouth, it's important that you take care of it. Keeping your saliva flowing will help ensure better oral health.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to health, 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 “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
If you're one of the more than 26 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, you know first hand how the disease impacts your life. That includes your dental health — and whether or not implants are a good tooth replacement option for you.
Diabetes is actually the name for a group of diseases affecting how your body processes glucose, a simple sugar that provides energy for the body's cells. The level of glucose in the blood is regulated by insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. Diabetes causes the pancreas to either stop producing insulin (Type 1) or not produce enough (Type 2). Also in Type 2, the body can become unresponsive to the insulin produced.
The implications for either type are serious and can be life-threatening. If glucose levels are chronically too low or high the patient could eventually go blind, suffer nerve damage, or develop kidney disease. Diabetes also interferes with wound healing and creates a greater susceptibility for gangrene: diabetics thus have a higher risk for losing fingers, toes and limbs, and can even succumb to coma or death.
Type 2 is the most common form of diabetes. Fortunately, most people with this type can effectively manage it through diet, exercise and regular glucose monitoring; if need be, prescription medication can help regulate their levels. Even so, diabetics with their disease under control must still be alert to slower wound healing and a higher risk of infection.
Because implant placement is a minor surgical procedure, the aspects of diabetes related to healing, infection and inflammation could have an adverse impact on the ultimate success of the placement. Implant surgery creates a wound in the surrounding gum tissues and bone that will need to heal; the body's immune response in a diabetic can interfere with that process. And if infection sets in, the risks of implant failure increase.
But research has shown that diabetics with good glucose management have as high a success rate (over 95% after ten years) as non-diabetic patients. That means the implant option is a viable one for you as a diabetic — but only if you have your disease under control.
When you look at the top row of a normal smile, you'll see symmetrical pairs: the central incisors in the middle, flanked by the lateral incisors and the canine (or eye) teeth on the outside of them.
Sometimes, though, teeth may not form as they should: in fact, it's one of the more common congenital defects with one in five people having missing or deformed teeth, often the upper lateral incisors. In the latter case, it's not uncommon for the eye teeth to drift into the missing lateral incisors' spaces next to the central incisors. This creates a smile even a layperson can tell is off.
There is a way to treat this with orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry that will transform that person's smile while restoring better mouth function too. It's often a long process, however, that's best begun early and must be precisely timed with dental development.
Using braces, we move the drifted teeth back to their proper positions, which will make room for a future dental restoration. It's usually best to begin this treatment during late childhood or early adolescence. The next step is to fill the newly-created space with prosthetic (false) teeth.
Dental implants are an ideal choice since they're durable and life-like, and won't require permanent alteration of adjacent teeth. They do, however, require a certain amount of bone volume at the site to support them; if the volume is insufficient we may have to place a bone graft to stimulate new growth.
It's also best not to install implants until the jaw has finished development, usually in the late teens or early adulthood. In the interim between tooth repositioning and implants we can customize a retainer or other removable appliance with a false tooth to occupy the space. This not only enhances the smile, it also prevents the repositioned teeth from drifting back.
These steps toward achieving a new smile take time and sometimes a team of specialists. But all the effort will be rewarded, as a person born without teeth can have a new smile and improved oral health.
If you would like more information on treating dental development deficiencies, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don't Grow.”