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.
In real life he was a hard-charging basketball player through high school and college. In TV and the movies, he has gone head-to-head with serial killers, assorted bad guys… even mysterious paranormal forces. So would you believe that David Duchovny, who played Agent Fox Mulder in The X-Files and starred in countless other large and small-screen productions, lost his front teeth… in an elevator accident?
“I was running for the elevator at my high school when the door shut on my arm,” he explained. “The next thing I knew, I was waking up in the hospital. I had fainted, fallen on my face, and knocked out my two front teeth.” Looking at Duchovny now, you’d never know his front teeth weren’t natural. But that’s not “movie magic” — it’s the art and science of modern dentistry.
How do dentists go about replacing lost teeth with natural-looking prosthetics? Today, there are two widely used tooth replacement procedures: dental implants and bridgework. When a natural tooth can’t be saved — due to advanced decay, periodontal disease, or an accident like Duchovny’s — these methods offer good looking, fully functional replacements. So what’s the difference between the two? Essentially, it’s a matter of how the replacement teeth are supported.
With state-of-the-art dental implants, support for the replacement tooth (or teeth) comes from small titanium inserts, which are implanted directly into the bone of the jaw. In time these become fused with the bone itself, providing a solid anchorage. What’s more, they actually help prevent the bone loss that naturally occurs after tooth loss. The crowns — lifelike replacements for the visible part of the tooth — are securely attached to the implants via special connectors called abutments.
In traditional bridgework, the existing natural teeth on either side of a gap are used to support the replacement crowns that “bridge” the gap. Here’s how it works: A one-piece unit is custom-fabricated, consisting of prosthetic crowns to replace missing teeth, plus caps to cover the adjacent (abutment) teeth on each side. Those abutment teeth must be shaped so the caps can fit over them; this is done by carefully removing some of the outer tooth material. Then the whole bridge unit is securely cemented in place.
While both systems have been used successfully for decades, bridgework is now being gradually supplanted by implants. That’s because dental implants don’t have any negative impact on nearby healthy teeth, while bridgework requires that abutment teeth be shaped for crowns, and puts additional stresses on them. Dental implants also generally last far longer than bridges — the rest of your life, if given proper care. However, they are initially more expensive (though they may prove more economical in the long run), and not everyone is a candidate for the minor surgery they require.
Which method is best for you? Don’t try using paranormal powers to find out: Come in and talk to us. If you would like more information about tooth replacement, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Crowns & Bridgework,” and “Dental Implants.”