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.
Major league baseball player Aaron Judge made news in July by breaking Joe DiMaggio's record for most home runs scored by a New York Yankees rookie. Then he made news again, this time for breaking something else. Following their game-winning home run against the Tampa Bay Rays in the 11th inning, the Yanks met for a spontaneous victory celebration at home plate. It was all fun and games… until an errant helmet accidentally slammed into Judge's mouth, breaking off half his left front tooth. Ouch!
Even if you're not playing big-league baseball, accidents sometimes happen. So what's the best dental treatment if you chip or break a tooth? It all depends on how much is broken off.
When a tooth has a small chip in it, dental bonding may be sufficient. Layering on tooth-colored bonding material results in a natural look, and it can be completed in one dental visit. However, bonding material in time will discolor, and it is not as strong as real tooth structure, so eventually it may need re-treatment.
Dental veneers or crowns may be used to restore more seriously damaged teeth. Veneers, thin porcelain shells that cover the front surface of teeth, can be used to restore minor to moderate chips. A crown (“cap”) is used when the damage is greater and more structural support is required. A crown replaces the visible part of the tooth above the gum line.
When the soft pulp tissue inside the tooth is damaged, root canal treatment will be needed to save the tooth. Despite the outdated rumors some people have heard, root canal procedures don't cause pain — they actually relieve it. During the procedure, exposed or infected pulp is removed and the inside of the tooth is sealed. Then a lifelike crown is placed so the tooth looks as good as new.
If the tooth cannot be saved — for example, it breaks off below the gum line — a dental implant may be your best option. Dental implants are small titanium posts that are surgically inserted and then capped with an artificial crown. Implant-supported teeth can last a lifetime and are usually indistinguishable from natural teeth.
So what happened with Judge's tooth? Thanks to a Friday morning visit to the dentist, he was smiling again with a temporary crown — and smiling over the fact that his tooth garnered more attention than the Yankees' dramatic 11th inning win.
If you have questions about cosmetically-pleasing tooth restorations, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. (If you have a dental injury, call us immediately!) You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “A Step-by-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
So, you're about to have a tooth capped with a crown. Do you know what you need to know before you undergo this common dental procedure?
Here's a short true or false quiz to test your knowledge of dental crowns.
All crowns are the same. False — while all crowns have the same basic design — a life-like prosthetic tooth fitted over and bonded or cemented to a natural tooth — their compositions can vary greatly. Early metal crowns consisted mainly of gold or silver and are still used today. Porcelain-fused-to-metal (PFM) crowns — a metal interior for strength overlaid by a porcelain exterior for appearance — became popular in the latter 20th Century. Although still widely used, PFMs have been largely surpassed by newer all-ceramic materials that are stronger than past versions.
Crowns can differ in their artistic quality. True — all crowns are designed to replicate a natural tooth's function — in other words, enable the tooth to effectively chew again. But a crown's appearance can be a different story, depending on how much attention to detail and artistry goes into it. The higher the individual craftsmanship, the more lifelike it will appear — and the more expensive it can be.
With digital milling equipment, dental labs are obsolete. False — although technology exists that allows dentists to produce their own crowns, the equipment is not yet in widespread use. Â The vast majority of crowns are still produced by a trained technician in a dental laboratory. And just as you base your choice of a dentist on your confidence in and respect for them, dentists look for the same thing in a dental lab — good, reliable and consistent results.
Your insurance may not cover what your dentist recommends. True — dental insurance will typically pay for a basic, functional crown. Aesthetics — how it will look — is a secondary consideration. As a result, your policy may not cover the crown your dentist recommends to function properly and look attractive. A new crown, however, is a long-term investment in both your dental function and your smile. It may be well worth supplementing out of pocket your insurance benefit to get the crown that suits you on both counts.
Everyone has to face the music at some time — even John Lydon, former lead singer of The Sex Pistols, arguably England’s best known punk rock band. The 59-year old musician was once better known by his stage name, Johnny Rotten — a brash reference to the visibly degraded state of his teeth. But in the decades since his band broke up, Lydon’s lifelong deficiency in dental hygiene had begun to cause him serious problems.
In recent years, Lydon has had several dental surgeries — including one to resolve two serious abscesses in his mouth, which left him with stitches in his gums and a temporary speech impediment. Photos show that he also had missing teeth, which, sources say, he opted to replace with dental implants.
For Lydon (and many others in the same situation) that’s likely to be an excellent choice. Dental implants are the gold standard for tooth replacement today, for some very good reasons. The most natural-looking of all tooth replacements, implants also have a higher success rate than any other method: over 95 percent. They can be used to replace one tooth, several teeth, or an entire arch (top or bottom row) of teeth. And with only routine care, they can last for the rest of your life.
Like natural teeth, dental implants get support from the bone in your jaw. The implant itself — a screw-like titanium post — is inserted into the jaw in a minor surgical operation. The lifelike, visible part of the tooth — the crown — is attached to the implant by a sturdy connector called an abutment. In time, the titanium metal of the implant actually becomes fused with the living bone tissue. This not only provides a solid anchorage for the prosthetic, but it also prevents bone loss at the site of the missing tooth — which is something neither bridgework nor dentures can do.
It’s true that implants may have a higher initial cost than other tooth replacement methods; in the long run, however, they may prove more economical. Over time, the cost of repeated dental treatments and periodic replacement of shorter-lived tooth restorations (not to mention lost time and discomfort) can easily exceed the expense of implants.
That’s a lesson John Lydon has learned. “A lot of ill health came from neglecting my teeth,” he told a newspaper reporter. “I felt sick all the time, and I decided to do something about it… I’ve had all kinds of abscesses, jaw surgery. It costs money and is very painful. So Johnny says: ‘Get your brush!’”
We couldn’t agree more. But if brushing isn’t enough, it may be time to consider dental implants. If you would like more information about dental implants, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants” and “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
“Redesigning” a smile is a lot like remodeling a house: the technicalities of construction must blend seamlessly with what is perceived as elegant and beautiful. The first aspect — the proper materials and techniques to achieve a sound restoration — is absolutely crucial. But the aesthetic is just as important for assuring the final restoration evokes beauty and style.
Balancing these two aspects of a smile makeover requires thoughtful intent and planning. What may be pleasing aesthetically may not be technically feasible; but what may be technically sound may not have that sought-after “curb appeal.”
You and your dentist must work together to achieve the successful blending of these two aspects. That’s why it’s important for you to have full confidence in your dentist: that he or she is both technically skilled and experienced in cosmetic procedures and artistically aware of what will look best aesthetically.
The first step in your makeover is a thorough dental examination to determine the overall state of your oral health. With this “bigger picture,” your dentist will have a better understanding of what’s possible and practical for you and your situation. The exam may also reveal problems that should be treated first before any cosmetic work.
From there, you must communicate clearly to your dentist what you perceive as wrong with your smile and what you would like to have changed. While there are general principles of beauty best followed, your dental work could hypothetically take different paths depending on your desires and expectations. You might prefer a more “sexy” look or one that’s “sophisticated.” Or perhaps you only want subtle changes that still retain features expressing your individuality.
Ultimately, though, your expectations must line up with reality. Much like your house contractor, your dentist will advise you on what’s both practical and possible. And with their experience in smile enhancement, they can also help you determine what will look most attractive given your facial structure and features.
With this preliminary planning, you can be confident as the work proceeds that the end of the project will be both exciting and satisfying. And just as with your newly renovated home, you’ll be more than happy to share your smile with others.
If you would like more information on enhancing your smile through cosmetic dentistry, 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 “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”
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