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.
A toothache might mean you have tooth decay—or maybe not. It could also be a sign of other problems that will take a dental exam to uncover. But we can get some initial clues about the underlying cause from how much it hurts, when and for how long it hurts and where you feel the pain most.
Let's say, for instance, you have a sharp pain while consuming something cold or hot, but only for a second or two. This could indicate isolated tooth decay or a loose filling. But it could also mean your gums have receded and exposed some of the tooth's hypersensitive root surface.
While over-aggressive brushing can be the culprit, gum recession is most often caused by periodontal (gum) disease. Untreated, this bacterial infection triggered by accumulated dental plaque could eventually cause tooth and bone loss, so the sooner it's attended to the better.
On the other hand, if the pain seems to linger after encountering hot or cold foods and liquids, or you have a continuous throbbing pain, you could have advanced tooth decay that's entered the inner pulp where infected tooth nerves are reacting painfully. If so, you may need a root canal treatment to remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty pulp and root canals to prevent further infection.
If you have this kind of pain, see a dentist as soon as possible, even if the pain stops. Cessation of pain may only mean the nerves have died and can no longer transmit pain; the infection, on the other hand, is still active and will continue to advance to the roots and bone.
Tooth pain could also indicate other situations: a cracked tooth, an abscess or even a sinus problem where you're feeling the pain radiating through the teeth. So whatever kind of pain you're feeling, it's your body's alarm signal that something's wrong. Promptly seeing your dentist is the best course of action for preserving your health.
If you would like more information on treating tooth pain, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
We've all had them — tiny sores that pop up seemingly out of nowhere under the tongue or the inside of the cheek. They're named aphthous ulcers, but are more commonly known as canker sores. For some people, they can be a recurring irritation.
Round with a yellow-gray center surrounded by reddened skin, aphthous ulcers seem to coincide with periods of anxiety or stress, or as a result of some minor trauma. Many people will feel a tingling or painful sensation a few hours or days before the ulcers appear. Once they appear they usually persist for a week to ten days before finally drying and healing. In the meantime they can be painful, especially while eating or drinking.
One form known as recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS) affects about a quarter of the population with outbreaks of multiple ulcers that occur regularly. RAS ulcers are usually one centimeter or more in size — the larger the sore the more painful they tend to be.
There are ways to ease the discomfort of an ulcer outbreak and help hasten their healing. A number of over-the-counter products can be used in minor cases to numb the area temporarily and cover it to facilitate healing. We can also apply steroids or inject other medications for more severe cases. You may also find curbing your eating of certain foods like tomato sauce, citrus or spicy dishes can help.
For the most part aphthous ulcers aren't dangerous. In some situations, though, you should seek dental or medical evaluation: a sore that doesn't heal within two weeks; increases in severity, frequency or duration of ulcers; or when you don't seem to ever be without an ulcer in your mouth. We may need to perform tests, including tissue biopsy, to make sure there aren't any underlying systemic conditions causing the ulcers.
More than likely, though, you'll only need relief from the aggravation caused by aphthous ulcers. Among the many remedies, there's one right for you.
If you would like more information on aphthous ulcers or other mouth sores, 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 “Mouth Sores.”
When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?
For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.
Inappropriate? We don't think so. As dentists, we're always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton's — so much the better.
Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there's a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:
- It's well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
- A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can't reach into spaces between teeth.
- Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
- Dental floss isn't the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!
Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn't matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!
Like other healthcare providers, your dentist keeps records of your ongoing care. These include not only their written notes but also x-ray imaging, frequency of visits and cleanings, and any medical information that could affect your care. What’s more, they have a legal obligation to maintain these records.
Your dental records help guide decisions about your care. In that regard, you should consider something else—you may need to change providers: your dentist retires or you move; your dentist isn’t in your new insurance network; or, unfortunately, you have an “irreconcilable” difference with your provider.
If that happens, it’s very important your dental records find their way to your new provider. Here are 3 reasons why.
Your individual dental history. Each person’s dental situation and needs are unique. Your past records help clue in your new dentist about your past history and current needs, which will help guide how they treat you.
Time and money. Your dental records contain x-rays or other diagnostic information about your oral condition, including preparations for any upcoming dental work. If you change dentists before completing that treatment, your new dentist may have to start over with new diagnostic tests if they don’t have this previous data. It could cost you more money and make you wait longer for a needed procedure.
Coordinating dental care with your general health. Your mouth isn’t isolated from the rest of your body, and some dental treatment measures could affect other health conditions (and vice-versa). If your new dentist knows other health issues you may have from your previous records, it can help ensure you’re getting dental treatment appropriate to your overall health.
For the most streamlined transition between providers, it’s important your dental records follow you. You’re entitled to having those records transferred, and, if you’re uncomfortable asking yourself, your new provider can obtain them for you. Just be sure to ask.
If you would like more information on your rights regarding your dental care records, 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 “Why Your Dental Records Should Follow You.”
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