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.
In many ways, the teenage years are the best time to have orthodontic treatment. It’s a good time emotionally because your teen is likely to have friends who also wear braces; orthodontic treatment becomes a rite of passage they can go through together. It’s also advantageous in a physical sense because all 20 baby teeth have come out, and most of the 32 adult teeth (except the 4 wisdom teeth) have emerged. At the same time, especially with younger teens, jaw growth is not yet complete — allowing orthodontists to harness the growing body’s natural adaptability. We can use a variety of appliances to do that — some of which weren’t around a generation ago!
In many cases, traditional metal braces are still the best way to achieve the desired results. However, these are not the “train tracks” of old. Braces are smaller and lighter, with brackets that are cemented to the front surfaces of teeth rather than to bands that encircle the entire tooth (except in the very back). Braces can be made much less noticeable by using ceramic brackets that are clear or tooth-colored; however, ceramic brackets are easier to break than metal. An even stealthier way to undergo orthodontic treatment is with clear aligners. These removable clear plastic “trays” are custom made with the help of computer software that divides the treatment process into two-week stages. After each two-week period, the tray is changed and the next stage of movement takes place until the teeth are in correct alignment. The Invisalign system has two modifications especially for teens: “eruption tabs” that hold space open for emerging molars, and “compliance indicators” that can tell parents and orthodontists if the teen is keeping the trays in for the prescribed amount of time. We’d be happy to discuss whether clear aligners would be an option for your child.
Keeping It Clean
No matter which type of appliance is used, oral hygiene becomes even more important during orthodontic treatment. Wearing braces presents special challenges in terms of keeping teeth clean; however, it’s extremely important to do an effective job every day so that gums do not become inflamed and cavities do not develop. It’s far easier to clean teeth with clear aligners, which can be removed, but the aligners themselves can build up bacteria, leading to the same types of oral health issues if they are not cleaned each day.
Making It Count
Another way in which orthodontic treatment will not vary regardless of the type of appliance chosen is the necessity of a retention phase. Everyone who has their teeth straightened (and this goes for adults and younger kids, too) must wear a retainer to hold the teeth in their new and improved alignment while new bone grows around them. Yes, braces are easier to wear than they used to be… but no one wants to wear them twice!
If you have questions about braces for your teen, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Clear Aligners for Teenagers” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that produces widespread pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints. The pain, muscle spasms and tingling it causes can disrupt sleep, alter moods and impair memory function.
Dealing with just this one condition can be overwhelming. But did you know 3 out 4 fibromyalgia patients also develop chronic pain and dysfunction involving their jaw joints? Known collectively as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), these jaw joint problems cause pain, muscle spasms and difficulty moving the jaws that can interfere with eating and speaking. TMD can also contribute to headaches and earaches.
Many researchers believe this prevalence of TMD among fibromyalgia patients stems from both conditions originating from the same primary cause—a malfunction within the central nervous system. In both cases, the brain and spinal cord may not be able to process pain signals in a normal fashion. This malfunction could also be generating and amplifying pain signals even when nerves are receiving no stimulation.
For decades now, the most effective treatment strategy for TMD has been to manage the symptoms with physical therapy and exercises, thermal therapy or medications. Relief for fibromyalgia has depended on medication and relaxation techniques like biofeedback therapy. But with the evidence of some connection between the two conditions, it may be helpful to coordinate treatment for both with a team approach involving all your healthcare providers, rather than treat them separately.
To that end, make sure both your dentist or physician treating you for TMD and your physician treating your fibromyalgia each know about the other condition. Consulting together, your healthcare team may find treatments (like certain drugs that counteract neurotransmitter imbalances) that might help reduce symptoms in both conditions. And cognitive-behavioral therapy, meditation and other therapeutic pain management techniques can help you cope with the pain.
Continued research into these two debilitating conditions and the possible links between them may have an effect on how we treat both. A holistic approach to treating them could be the wave of the future.
If you would like more information on the links between TMD and other chronic pain conditions, 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 “Fibromyalgia and Temporomandibular Disorders.”
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?”
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