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.
The electronic cigarette (e-cig), the much-acclaimed smoking alternative, has recently been linked to hundreds of lung-related illnesses and deaths among otherwise healthy young adults. But dentists were actually among the first to sound alarm bells on the potential harm of “vaping,” particularly to dental health.
If you're vaping as a substitute for smoking, you may be trading one set of oral health risks for another. Many dentists believe vaping may be no safer for your mouth than traditional tobacco.
An e-cig is a small, handheld device that holds a mixture of water, flavoring and chemicals. The device heats the liquid until it becomes a gaseous aerosol the user inhales into their lungs. Proponents say it's a safer and cleaner alternative to smoking. But, like cigarettes, vaping mixtures can contain nicotine. This chemical constricts blood vessels, decreasing nutrients and infection-fighting agents to the gums and increasing the risk of gum disease.
And although vaping flavorings are FDA-approved as a food additive, there's some evidence as an aerosol they irritate the mouth's inner membranes and cause mouth dryness similar to smoking. Vaping liquids also contain propylene glycol for moisture preservation, which some studies have shown increases a buildup of plaque, the bacterial film most responsible for dental disease.
All of these different effects from vaping can create a perfect storm in the mouth for disease. So, rather than switch to vaping, consider quitting the tobacco habit altogether. It's a solid thing to do for your teeth and gums, not to mention the rest of the body.
As we commemorate the Great American Smokeout on November 21, this month is the perfect time to take action. Here are some tips to help you kick the habit.
Don't try to quit all at once. Your body has developed a physical connection with nicotine, so quitting “cold turkey” can be extremely difficult and unpleasant. Although different approaches work for different people, you may find it easier to overcome your habit by gradually reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day.
Enroll in a cessation program. There are a number of step-by-step programs, some involving medication, that can help you quit smoking. Talk to us or your doctor about using a cessation program to end your tobacco habit.
Seek support from others. Beating the smoking habit can be tough if you're trying to do it solo. Instead, enlist the help of family and friends to support you and keep you on track. Consider also joining a supervised support group for quitting smoking near you or online.
Smoking can harm your dental health and vaping may be just as harmful. Distancing yourself from both habits will help you maintain a healthier smile and a healthier life.
If you would like more information about the effects of vaping and tobacco use, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Vaping and Oral Health” and “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Basketball isn't a contact sport—right? Maybe once upon a time that was true… but today, not so much. Just ask New York Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. While scrambling for a loose ball in a recent game, Smith's mouth took a hit from an opposing player's elbow—and he came up missing a big part of his front tooth. It's a type of injury that has become common in this fast-paced game.
Research shows that when it comes to dental damage, basketball is a leader in the field. In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) found that intercollegiate athletes who play basketball suffered a rate of dental injuries several times higher than those who played baseball, volleyball or track—even football!
Part of the problem is the nature of the game: With ten fast-moving players competing for space on a small court, collisions are bound to occur. Yet football requires even closer and more aggressive contact. Why don't football players suffer as many orofacial (mouth and face) injuries?
The answer is protective gear. While football players are generally required to wear helmets and mouth guards, hoopsters are not. And, with a few notable exceptions (like Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry), most don't—which is an unfortunate choice.
Yes, modern dentistry offers many different options for a great-looking, long lasting tooth restoration or replacement. Based on each individual's situation, it's certainly possible to restore a damaged tooth via cosmetic bonding, veneers, bridgework, crowns, or dental implants. But depending on what's needed, these treatments may involve considerable time and expense. It's better to prevent dental injuries before they happen—and the best way to do that is with a custom-made mouthguard.
Here at the dental office we can provide a high-quality mouthguard that's fabricated from an exact model of your mouth, so it fits perfectly. Custom-made mouthguards offer effective protection against injury and are the most comfortable to wear; that's vital, because if you don't wear a mouthguard, it's not helping. Those "off-the-rack" or "boil-and-bite" mouthguards just can't offer the same level of comfort and protection as one that's designed and made just for you.
Do mouthguards really work? The same JADA study mentioned above found that when basketball players were required to wear mouthguards, the injury rate was cut by more than half! So if you (or your children) love to play basketball—or baseball—or any sport where there's a danger of orofacial injury—a custom-made mouthguard is a good investment in your smile's future.
If you would like more information about custom-made athletic mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
You can't separate your oral health from your overall health. What's beneficial for your body in general is usually beneficial for your teeth and gums.
Take the foods you eat: good nutrition is essential to general health and well-being. But the same foods that keep the rest of your body healthy often do the same for your mouth—and those that are not so good for the rest of you are usually not good for your teeth and gums either.
Here are 4 different types of foods that positively impact both mouth and body.
Cheese and dairy. Dairy products are rich in calcium, essential for strengthening both your bones and your teeth. Cheese helps stimulate saliva and protects against calcium loss. Cow's milk contains minerals and proteins both your body and mouth needs. It also contains lactose, a less acidic sugar that doesn't contribute to tooth decay.
Plant foods. Vegetables and fruit are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that keep the body functioning normally. They also contain fiber: Not only is this good for your digestive system, it requires chewing to break it down in the mouth, which stimulates saliva. A good flow of saliva helps prevent your mouth from becoming too acidic and thus more prone to dental disease.
Black and green teas. A nice cup of hot tea isn't just soothing—it's rich in antioxidants that help fight disease in the body (and the mouth). Black tea also contains fluoride, which has been proven to strengthen enamel against acid attack.
Chocolate. There's both good and bad news about this perennial favorite. The good news is the polyphenolic compounds (a kind of antioxidant) in unrefined cocoa can protect against disease including tooth decay. The bad news is most processed chocolate is loaded with added sugar—not the healthiest substance for your body, and definitely not for your teeth. Try then to incorporate small amounts of chocolate in your diet, the lower the sugar content the better.
Eating nutritiously helps your body stay healthy and disease-free. And coupled with daily hygiene and regular dental visits, it's one of the best things you can do for your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on nutrition and dental 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 “Nutrition and Oral Health: How Diet Impacts Dental and General Health.”
The smiley face: It’s been around forever. Except it hasn’t—someone created it. No, not Forrest Gump (but good guess!), but graphic artist Harvey Ball in 1963 to help boost employee morale at an insurance company. Do you know what else Harvey Ball came up with? World Smile Day: Beginning in 1999, Ball began promoting the first Friday in October as a day to encourage smiles and acts of kindness. But there’s no need to limit smiles to one day. We hope you treat every day as World Smile Day—to make your corner of the world a little brighter.
What can you do to show your support? Well to begin with, smile—a lot. And also do things to make other people smile. We don’t want you to hold back because you’re not completely satisfied with your smile. If you’d like to get that wonderful smile of yours in better shape, here are some ideas:
Have your teeth professionally cleaned. Having your teeth cleaned at the dental office is one of the best things you can do to prevent dental disease. Dental plaque makes your teeth look dull and dingy and can lead to gum disease and cavities. A professional cleaning to rid your teeth of any built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) with a follow-up polish can help your teeth look great!
Brighten up your smile. You can turn up the brightness volume on your teeth with a tooth whitening application. There are whitening products you can buy over the counter, but for best results see your dentist for a professional whitening. Dentists can better control the degree of brightness and their professional-grade solutions often last longer.
Upgrade your teeth’s appearance. You may have a great looking smile—except for that chip, discoloration or slight gap between a couple of teeth. There are a number of ways, many quite affordable, to improve your teeth’s appearance. Your dentist can bond color-matched composite resin to your teeth to “fill in” chips or other blemishes. And a veneer, a thin layer of porcelain bonded to the face of a tooth, can mask mild to moderate dental blemishes.
There are other “smile changers” like orthodontics, crowns or dental implants that are a bit more extensive. Depending on your needs and expectations, these can give you a “smile makeover” that will get you ready for future World Smile Days.
In the meantime, talk to us about how you can perk up your smile. An attractive smile is much easier to share with the world.
If you would like more information about smile enhancements, please contact us to schedule a consultation.
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