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.
While your teeth and gums can take a lot, they still face dangers like dental disease. Your teeth are also affected by aging-related wear and tear.
And, something else could put your teeth at risk: teeth grinding. This is an involuntary habit afflicting one in ten adults in which they grind or clench their teeth, often while they’re asleep. This generates higher than normal biting forces that can cause sore jaw joints, accelerated teeth wear and damage to the ligaments that hold teeth in place. In the worst case, you could eventually lose teeth.
So how do you know you’re grinding your teeth, especially if you’re asleep? You might notice your jaw being unusually sore after you wake up or your jaw muscles feel tired. Your dentist may also notice higher than normal tooth wear during a regular checkup. One of the best indicators, though, might be your sleeping partner or family: Teeth gnashing together can be loud enough to disturb others’ sleep.
In treating adult teeth grinding, it’s best to first determine the underlying cause. One of the most prominent reasons is chronic stress: If you’re under high pressure from situations at work or at home, pent-up stress can vent through physical outlets like teeth grinding. You can manage high stress through relaxation techniques, biofeedback or group therapy, which could in turn reduce teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding could also be related to a sleep disorder, such as problems with shifting between nightly sleep cycles. Certain psychoactive drugs are often associated with teeth grinding too. And, because of alterations in brain chemistry, tobacco users are twice as likely to grind their teeth as non-users. So, receiving treatment for a medical condition or making certain lifestyle changes could help lessen a grinding habit.
Many of these approaches take time to alleviate teeth grinding. For immediate relief, your dentist can create a custom mouthguard you wear while you sleep to reduce the effects of teeth grinding. The guard prevents the upper and lower teeth from making contact while biting down, which reduces the forces against them.
The damage from teeth grinding is often cumulative. If diagnosed early, though, we may be able to stop or minimize the damage before it goes too far.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding.”
The fast-paced world of sports and entertainment isn’t all glitz and glamour. These high-profile industries create a unique kind of emotional and mental stress on celebrities. For many of them, a way to “let off steam” is an oral habit known as teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is an involuntary habit in which a person bites and grinds their teeth outside of normal activities like eating or speaking. It’s common among young children, who usually grow out of it, but it can also affect adults, especially those who deal with chronic stress. If not addressed, teeth grinding can eventually wear down teeth, damage gum attachments or fracture weaker teeth. It can even contribute to tooth loss.
A number of well-known personalities in the spotlight struggle with teeth grinding, including actress Vivica Fox, model and TV host Chrissy Teigen, and star athletes Tara Lipinski and Milos Raonic of ice skating and tennis fame, respectively. The habit represents not only a threat to their dental health, but also to one of their most important career assets: an attractive and inviting smile. Fortunately, though, they each use a similar device to manage their teeth grinding.
Besides seeking ways to better manage life stress, individuals with a teeth-grinding habit can protect their teeth with a custom mouthguard from their dentist. Made of slick plastic, this device is worn over the teeth, usually while sleeping, to minimize dental damage. During a grinding episode, the teeth can’t make contact with each other due to the guard’s glossy surface—they simply slide away from each other. This reduces the biting forces and eliminates the potential for wear, the main sources of dental damage.
Chrissy Teigen, co-host with LL Cool J on the game show Lip Sync Battle, wears her custom-made guard regularly at night. She even showed off her guard to her fans once during a selfie-video posted on Snapchat and Twitter. Vivica Fox, best known for her role in Independence Day, also wears her guard at night, and for an additional reason: The guard helps protect her porcelain veneers, which could be damaged if they encounter too much biting force.
Mouthguards are a prominent part of sports, usually to protect the teeth and gums from injury. Some athletes, though, wear them because of their teeth grinding habit. Tara Lipinski, world renowned figure skater and media personality, keeps hers on hand to wear at night even when she travels. And Milos Raonic, one of the world’s top professional tennis players, wears his during matches—the heat of competition tends to trigger his own teeth-grinding habit.
These kinds of mouthguards aren’t exclusive to celebrities. If you or a family member contends with this bothersome habit, we may be able to create a custom mouthguard for you. It won’t stop teeth grinding, but it could help protect your teeth—and your smile.
If you would like more information about protecting your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
Bonjour! Hola! Shalom! December is National Learn a Foreign Language Month, and learning to say “Hello” in different tongues is a good place to start. You could then move on to another set of wonderful words like sonrisa, lächeln and sourire, the Spanish, German and French words for “smile.”
But then again, smiling itself doesn’t need a translation—it’s common to every culture on earth. It’s one of our best assets for interacting with people, both at home and abroad. So, make sure your smile is the best it can be by taking care of the “stars of the show”: your teeth and gums.
Here are a few tips for keeping your teeth and gums healthy and your “international” smile attractive.
Brush and floss daily. It takes just 5 minutes a day to perform one of the most important things you can do for your long-term oral health. Brushing and flossing clean away dental plaque, a sticky bacterial film that causes tooth decay and gum disease. A daily oral hygiene practice helps keep your teeth shiny and clean and your gums a healthy shade of pink.
Get regular dental cleanings. Even the most diligent hygiene habit may not clear away all plaque deposits, which can then harden into a calcified form called calculus. Also known as tartar, calculus is an ideal haven for disease-causing bacteria—and it can’t be removed by brushing and flossing alone. Dental cleanings at least twice a year remove stubborn plaque and calculus, further reducing your disease risk.
Don’t ignore dental problems. While your dentist will check your mouth for disease during your regular cleanings, you should also be on the lookout for signs of problems between visits. Watch for odd spots on the teeth and swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you see any abnormalities like these, don’t ignore it; make an exam appointment as soon as possible. The sooner we identify and begin treating a potential dental issue, the less your oral health—and your smile—will suffer.
Consider cosmetic improvements. Keeping teeth clean and healthy is one thing, but what can you do about existing dental blemishes that detract from your smile? Fortunately, there are numerous ways to cosmetically enhance teeth and gums, and many are quite affordable. Teeth whitening can brighten up yellow, dingy teeth; bonding can repair minor chips and other tooth defects; and veneers and other restorations can mask tooth chips, stains or misalignments.
Like the ability to speak another language, a confident, joyful smile can open doors to new cultures, places and friends. Let us partner with you to make your smile as attractive as possible.
If you would like more information about improving and maintaining your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
As with most Western countries, we in the U.S. love our carbs. While fats and proteins make an appearance in our diets, many of us go full-tilt on sugars, starches and fibers.
Regardless of what some diet gurus say, we do need these organic compounds to generate energy for our cells. But carbs can also fuel inflammation: This is a mechanism in the body that isolates and protects healthy tissues from damaged tissues or toxins. Chronic inflammation, though, contributes to systemic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and, yes, gum disease.
And it's not just a matter of too many carbs in your diet. Not all carbs are equal: Some can actually stimulate inflammation, making conditions like gum disease worse. Others, though, might actually help decrease inflammation.
So, in terms of your gum health in particular, how do you know which carbs are better for you and which are worse?
It depends on their ranking on the glycemic index, a measure of how fast the body digests a particular carbohydrate to form glucose, the blood sugar that fuels our cells. The faster the digestion (higher on the glycemic index), the more likely they'll overload the bloodstream with glucose, requiring the release of the hormone insulin to bring the levels back to normal. Continuous insulin increases ultimately lead to higher inflammation.
High glycemic foods include those with added sugar, bakery items made with white flour, white rice or mashed potatoes. But there are also carb foods low on the glycemic scale—most vegetables, greens, beans, nuts and whole grains—whose slower digestive rates avoid the big blood sugar spikes and excessive insulin—and actually hinder inflammation.
So, if you want to control inflammation, reduce your consumption of high glycemic foods like chips, French fries, cookies and similar items. Instead, eat low glycemic foods like apples, bulgur wheat products, oatmeal, and other fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts.
In short: steer clear of processed foods with added sugar, and indulge yourself in fresh “real” food. These also have the added bonuses of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants that keep your body functioning normally. And that can also make a big difference toward keeping your gums healthy and disease-free.
If you would like more information on diet and dental health, 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
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