Posts for category: Dental Procedures
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 movie Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates the iconic rock band Queen and its legendary lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury. But when we see pictures of the flamboyant singer, many fans both old and new may wonder—what made Freddie’s toothy smile look the way it did? Here’s the answer: The singer was born with four extra teeth at the back of his mouth, which caused his front teeth to be pushed forward, giving him a noticeable overbite.
The presence of extra teeth—more than 20 primary (baby) teeth or 32 adult teeth—is a relatively rare condition called hyperdontia. Sometimes this condition causes no trouble, and an extra tooth (or two) isn’t even recognized until the person has an oral examination. In other situations, hyperdontia can create problems in the mouth such as crowding, malocclusion (bad bite) and periodontal disease. That’s when treatment may be recommended.
Exactly what kind of treatment is needed? There’s a different answer for each individual, but in many cases the problem can be successfully resolved with tooth extraction (removal) and orthodontic treatment (such as braces). Some people may be concerned about having teeth removed, whether it’s for this problem or another issue. But in skilled hands, this procedure is routine and relatively painless.
Teeth aren’t set rigidly in the jawbone like posts in cement—they are actually held in place dynamically by a fibrous membrane called the periodontal ligament. With careful manipulation of the tooth, these fibers can be dislodged and the tooth can be easily extracted. Of course, you won’t feel this happening because extraction is done under anesthesia (often via a numbing shot). In addition, you may be given a sedative or anti-anxiety medication to help you relax during the procedure.
After extraction, some bone grafting material may be placed in the tooth socket and gauze may be applied to control bleeding; sutures (stitches) are sometimes used as well. You’ll receive instructions on medication and post-extraction care before you go home. While you will probably feel discomfort in the area right after the procedure, in a week or so the healing process will be well underway.
Sometimes, dental problems like hyperdontia need immediate treatment because they can negatively affect your overall health; at other times, the issue may be mainly cosmetic. Freddie Mercury declined treatment because he was afraid dental work might interfere with his vocal range. But the decision to change the way your smile looks is up to you; after an examination, we can help you determine what treatment options are appropriate for your own situation.
If you have questions about tooth extraction or orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Simple Tooth Extraction” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Getting a new smile doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair. If your teeth have minor to moderate chips, stains or tooth gaps, dental veneers could be the answer. These thin wafers of dental porcelain mask tooth imperfections and completely change your smile’s dynamic—and without a huge impact to your wallet.
To achieve that effect, though, your personal set of veneers will require the expertise of both your dentist and a dental lab technician to design and create your veneers. And while there are numerous considerations in achieving a truly life-like appearance with veneers, one of the most important is their color.
We always associate the color white with teeth. And while it is the dominant hue, actual tooth color is more complex. An individual tooth is comprised of multiple shades and tints, that range in variation from its biting edge to the gums. Likewise, tooth color in general can differ from person to person.
Your dentist must take these individual color variations into account while designing your new veneers, especially if you’ll be getting them for some but not for all your teeth. In that case, it’s important for the veneer color to blend seamlessly with the color of your natural teeth without veneers.
Your new smile expectations and desires are also important and should be considered when designing veneer coloring. For instance, do you want a more natural look—or would you prefer a smile with more “dazzle”? This could have an impact on color.
Your dentist takes all of this information (including your input) and communicates it clearly to the dental lab technician creating the veneers. That process is a combination of both science and artistry, using a variety of techniques to achieve an accurate, life-like texture and color result. For example, a technician may paint the edges of the veneers with a ceramic paste that when cured produces a life-like translucency.
This meticulous attention to color detail is necessary to create beautiful veneers that look natural. If the color is right, you’re sure to enjoy the change your veneers bring to your smile for many years to come.
If you would like more information on transforming your smile with dental veneers, 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 “Porcelain Veneers: Your Smile—Better Than Ever.”
If you've thought the ads for a “new tooth in one day” seemed too good to be true, we have…sort of good news. You can get a new “tooth” in one visit, but only if your dental situation allows it.
The restoration in question is a dental implant, a metal post (usually titanium) surgically imbedded into the jawbone. They're especially durable because bone cells naturally grow and adhere to an implant's titanium surface, a process called osseointegration. Over time this process creates a strong bond between implant and bone.
Usually, we allow a few weeks for the implant to fully integrate with the bone before attaching the visible crown. With “tooth in one day,” though, we attach a crown at the same time as we install the implant, albeit a temporary crown. It's more aesthetic than functional, designed to avoid biting forces that could damage the implant while it integrates with the bone. When that process finishes, we'll install a permanent porcelain crown.
The health of your supporting bone and other structures will largely determine whether or not you're a candidate for this “tooth in one day” procedure. Your bone must be sufficiently healthy, as well as the gums surrounding the implant and the tooth's bony socket.
If, on the other hand, you have significant bone loss, gum recession or socket damage, we may first need to deal with these, usually by grafting tissue to the affected areas to stimulate new growth. Your implant, much less a temporary crown, will likely have to wait until the affected tissues have healed.
The bone can also be healthy enough for implant placement, but might still need time to integrate with the implant before attaching any crown. Instead, we would suture the gums over the implant to protect it, then expose and attach a permanent crown to the implant a few weeks later.
Obtaining even a temporary crown the same day as your implant can do wonders for your appearance. A more important goal, though, is a new tooth that you can enjoy for many, many years. To achieve that may mean waiting a little longer for your new beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on restoring missing teeth with dental implants, 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 “Implant Timelines for Replacing Missing Teeth.”
Modern dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-rays. Since dentists began capturing x-ray images a century ago to detect beginning tooth decay, billions of teeth have been preserved.
“Catching it early” is the key to staying ahead of this aggressive bacterial infection. Once it breaks through the protective defenses of tooth enamel, it can advance toward the center of the tooth, the pulp, damaging dentin as it goes. While we can effectively stop it at this point with a root canal treatment, it’s better for the tooth’s long-term health to detect and treat any decay early on with a less-invasive filling or other treatment method.
X-ray imaging helps make that possible, revealing decay much easier than we can see with the unaided eye. And while we can often detect decay in front teeth by visual examination or by using very bright lighting, that’s not as easy with the less accessible back teeth. For those teeth we use a special x-ray technique known as the bitewing.
The name comes from the small frame used to hold the film. It’s held in place in the mouth by the patient biting down on small tabs or “wings” extending from the frame. The x-ray beam travels through the outer cheek and teeth to the film being held in the frame on the back side of the teeth. When exposed, we’ll be able to view the interior of these back teeth: a set of four bitewings gives us a full view of all the upper and lower molars and pre-molars on each side of the jaws.
Like other forms of radiation energy, too much or too frequent exposures to x-rays can lead to serious health problems. But bitewing x-rays carry little risk to health. That’s because they fit well with the ALARA principle, meaning “As Low As Reasonably Achievable,” which helps guide our use of x-rays. Patients receive a fraction of the radiation exposure from routine bitewing x-rays than they receive annually from the natural environment.
Without bitewing x-rays and other diagnostic methods, the chances are high that tooth decay or other dental problems can go undetected in their early stages. Using this important tool can help us head off major damage before it occurs.
If you would like more information on the role of x-rays in dental care, 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 “Bitewing X-Rays: A Routine Part of Your Dental Exam.”