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.
So you’re tearing up the dance floor at a friend’s wedding, when all of a sudden one of your pals lands an accidental blow to your face — chipping out part of your front tooth, which lands right on the floorboards! Meanwhile, your wife (who is nine months pregnant) is expecting you home in one piece, and you may have to pose for a picture with the baby at any moment. What will you do now?
Take a tip from Prince William of England. According to the British tabloid The Daily Mail, the future king found himself in just this situation in 2013. His solution: Pay a late-night visit to a discreet dentist and get it fixed up — then stay calm and carry on!
Actually, dental emergencies of this type are fairly common. While nobody at the palace is saying exactly what was done for the damaged tooth, there are several ways to remedy this dental dilemma.
If the broken part is relatively small, chances are the tooth can be repaired by bonding with composite resin. In this process, tooth-colored material is used to replace the damaged, chipped or discolored region. Composite resin is a super-strong mixture of plastic and glass components that not only looks quite natural, but bonds tightly to the natural tooth structure. Best of all, the bonding procedure can usually be accomplished in just one visit to the dental office — there’s no lab work involved. And while it won’t last forever, a bonded tooth should hold up well for at least several years with only routine dental care.
If a larger piece of the tooth is broken off and recovered, it is sometimes possible to reattach it via bonding. However, for more serious damage — like a severely fractured or broken tooth — a crown (cap) may be required. In this restoration process, the entire visible portion of the tooth may be capped with a sturdy covering made of porcelain, gold, or porcelain fused to a gold metal alloy.
A crown restoration is more involved than bonding. It begins with making a 3-D model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors. From this model, a tooth replica will be fabricated by a skilled technician; it will match the existing teeth closely and fit into the bite perfectly. Next, the damaged tooth will be prepared, and the crown will be securely attached to it. Crown restorations are strong, lifelike and permanent.
Was the future king “crowned” — or was his tooth bonded? We may never know for sure. But it’s good to know that even if we’ll never be royals, we still have several options for fixing a damaged tooth. If you would like more information, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Repairing Chipped Teeth” and “Crowns and Bridgework.”