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.”
While not as prevalent as adults, teenagers can have missing teeth, usually from injury or from never having been formed. Fortunately, life-like dental implants can replace missing teeth. But unfortunately for teens, implants aren't usually a good option—yet.
That's because a teenager's jaws are still growing, and will continue until early adulthood. Dental implants don't adjust to this growth like natural teeth and will eventually look out of place. It's best, then, to consider a temporary restoration for a teenager. And, there are two excellent options: one removable and one fixed.
The first is a removable partial denture (RPD). Like a full denture, an RPD has an acrylic base that resembles gum tissue, to which prosthetic (false) teeth are attached to match the positions of the missing teeth. It's usually held in place with metal or nylon clips that slide under part of the natural teeth at the gum line.
RPDs are versatile and durable. But they're not designed to be worn indefinitely, so they can be damaged if subjected to excessive biting forces like biting into something hard. And, peer-pressured teens may also feel self-consciousness about wearing a “denture.”
The other option is a bonded bridge. It's similar to a traditional bridge, except how it's supported in the mouth. A traditional bridge gains its support from the crowns on each end attached to natural teeth, which must be permanently altered for them. By contrast, a bonded bridge has strips of dental material extending from both sides of its back that are bonded to the back of the adjacent natural teeth.
With the bonding material behind the bridge, it can't be seen—and the natural teeth won't require permanent alteration. But a bonded bridge is usually more costly than an RPD and less secure than a traditional bridge. And not every teen is a viable candidate for one: issues like how the teeth fit together and if the teen has a tooth grinding habit could be strikes against this fixed option.
Your dentist can help you sort out the best of these options for your teen. If cared for and maintained properly, either restoration can buy you time until your teen is ready for dental implants.
If you would like more information on restoring a teenager's smile, 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 “Temporary Tooth Replacement for Teens: What Are the Options?”
After living with braces for a couple of years, the “big reveal” finally happens and you see your new smile for the first time. But then you’re told you have to wear another mouth appliance—around the clock to start and then just at night. After all the new smile excitement, wearing a retainer can be a little anticlimactic.
But this part of your orthodontic treatment is as important as the earlier tooth movement phase. That’s because your new “forever smile” doesn’t necessarily come with a “forever” guaranty. In fact, your teeth could quickly begin moving back to where they were before braces if you don’t wear a retainer.
The reason why is because of a tough but elastic gum tissue called the periodontal ligament. This ligament lies between the teeth and the jawbone, attaching to both through tiny extending fibers. The periodontal ligament actually does most of the anchoring work to hold your teeth in place.
The ligament is also why we’re able to move your teeth to different positions: As braces apply pressure to the teeth and jaw in the direction of desired movement, the ligament remodels itself to allow the teeth to take up these new positions.
The tissues involved, though, still retain a kind of “memory” of where the teeth used to be. This creates an immediate tendency for the teeth to revert to these old positions. To prevent this, we use a retainer that when worn keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they’ve stabilized and the old tissue “memory” fades.
There are different types of retainers, some removable and some fixed in place. Choosing the best one for a particular patient will depend on the complexity of the bite treatment, the patient’s age and level of self-responsibility and the preferences of the orthodontist. Whichever type of retainer you eventually use, it’s important you wear it to preserve all of the time and effort that went into transforming your smile.
Wearing a retainer might not be high on your “exciting things to do” list. But it’s the best way to guarantee you’ll enjoy your new smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on keeping your new smile after braces, 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 Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
It's a “change” moment when your child leaves home to attend college for the first time. For many, it's the first time to truly be on their own. While that new autonomy can be exhilarating, it does require self-responsibility to avoid some nasty pitfalls that might snare them.
So, before you bid them adieu at the dorm, be sure to give them some good, old-fashioned parental advice. And that includes teeth and gum care: While it may not seem as urgent as other potential issues, failing to maintain oral health could eventually affect the rest of their health.
The most important thing they can do mouth-wise is to brush and floss every day—and see a dentist at least twice a year. Daily oral hygiene keeps plaque, a thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease, from accumulating.
There are other habits that foster good oral health—like eating a well-balanced diet. Encourage them to eat “real” food: less on processed items and more on fresh fruits and vegetables. That includes keeping added sugar to a minimum—not only for good overall health, but to also deprive disease-causing oral bacteria of a favorite food source. And tell them to go easy on the sodas, sports and energy drinks loaded with acid that can damage enamel.
Don't forget to mention lifestyle practices that are best avoided. Tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption can make the mouth more susceptible to diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. And even if oral piercings are all the rage on campus, any hardware worn in the mouth could cause chipped teeth and contribute to gum recession.
And if you've already had the “talk” with them, you should still review the facts of life one more time. There just happens to be a connection with this particular subject and their mouth—unsafe sexual practices could leave them vulnerable to the human papilloma virus (HPV16) that could increase their oral cancer risk.
College is both an exciting and challenging time. If your new student follows these timely oral care tips, they can avoid teeth and gum problems that could linger for years to come.
If you would like more information helping your college-bound student maintain good oral 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 “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
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