Posts for: February, 2015
Metal amalgam fillings for dental caries have been used since the mid 19th Century. Although newer, “natural color” filling materials have become available, amalgam remains a standard choice among dentists.
Dental amalgam is a metal alloy created by carefully combining exact proportions of mercury, silver, tin and copper. Though quite pliable when first mixed, the alloy eventually sets into a very hard substance that stands up well against the forces produced by the mouth’s natural chewing function. The presence of mercury, however, has raised concerns for some that the metal’s toxic properties pose a risk to the patient’s health.
But after decades of research, the American Dental Association and other health organizations have concluded that dental amalgam “is a safe, reliable and effective restorative material.” Studies have determined that any free molecules of mercury that could potentially enter the bloodstream are trapped in the set amalgam. And although the amalgam can release mercury vapor during chewing, the amounts are well below the levels considered harmful.
Dental amalgam has proven to be versatile, effective and economical. It doesn’t create an allergic reaction, is quite durable, and doesn’t interfere with normal chewing function. It does, however, have its drawbacks. Its use can require more tooth material to be removed to keep the fillings in place, and they can increase temperature sensitivity during the initial four to six weeks. And, of course, their metallic appearance, especially when used in more visible front teeth, reduces their aesthetic appeal.
Other, more cosmetically appealing types of filling material have been developed over the years. These include composite resin fillings, a mixture of glass or quartz in a resin medium; glass ionomers, made of acrylic acids and fine glass powders and best used in areas not subject to heavy chewing; and resin ionomers, similar to glass ionomers but with the addition of acrylic resin. Each of these has their advantages and disadvantages (as well as cost considerations), but they’re main advantage over amalgam is their mimicry of natural tooth color.
The choice of either dental amalgam filling or one of the tooth-color alternatives depends on what you may need and can afford. Rest assured, though, that if the choice is dental amalgam, this restoration workhorse can provide you years of safe and effective service.
If you would like more information on your options for tooth fillings, 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 “Silver Fillings.”
You just came in to have your teeth cleaned, but our hygienist is asking you about your general state of health and what medications you are taking. Meanwhile you are wondering why she doesn't just get on with the cleaning.
Dental hygienists are health care professionals who are trained and licensed to preserve your general as well as your oral health. That's why our hygienist begins your visit by asking you about your health history. Some health problems or medications may require special precautions during a dental cleaning. A hygienist also needs to know about your dietary history and other general health questions.
Our hygienist will examine the skin in and around your mouth for sores, lumps, and other areas that could be signs of oral cancer or other problems. She is trained to spot this disease and others.
Dental hygiene is individualized to your own situation. There is not a “one size fits all” solution. During your cleaning, our hygienist will also evaluate the health of your gums and teeth, checking for tooth decay and for inflammation (gingivitis) and bleeding. She will measure the space between your teeth and the surrounding gums, looking for pockets that form when the gums detach from the teeth. Such pockets indicate periodontal disease and can lead to serious problems.
After your health assessment and examination, the actual cleaning will begin. Your dental hygienist will remove deposits of plaque and calculus by using a technique called scaling. Plaque is a biofilm, a film of bacteria that builds up on your teeth. The reason you brush and floss every day is to remove this film from the surfaces of your teeth and gums and from between your teeth. Plaque that is not removed hardens into a mineralized substance called tartar or calculus, and this is what the hygienist removes by scaling.
The next step is a polish to remove surface stains from your teeth and to give your teeth the slick feeling that you identify as clean.
Finally, our hygienist will discuss your state of oral health with you and make suggestions for improvement. Most hygiene appointments take about 45 minutes to an hour. As you can see, during this appointment a lot must be done to preserve your oral health.
If you are in need of a dental cleaning, contact our office today to schedule an appointment. You can learn more about your visit to the hygienist by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
Periodontal (gum) disease can cause a number of devastating effects that could eventually lead to tooth loss. However, you may be more prone to a particular effect depending on the individual characteristics of your gums.
There are two basic types of gum tissues or “periodontal biotypes” that we inherit from our parents: thick or thin. These can often be identified by sight — thinner gum tissues present a more pronounced arch around the teeth and appear more scalloped; thicker tissues present a flatter arch appearance. While there are size variations within each biotype, one or the other tends to predominate within certain populations: those of European or African descent typically possess the thick biotype, while Asians tend to possess the thin biotype.
In relation to gum disease, those with thin gum tissues are more prone to gum recession. The diseased tissues pull up and away (recede) from a tooth, eventually exposing the tooth’s root surface. Receding gums thus cause higher sensitivity to temperature changes or pressure, and can accelerate tooth decay. It’s also unattractive as the normal pink triangles of gum tissue between teeth (papillae) may be lost, leaving only a dark spot between the teeth or making the more yellow-colored root surface visible.
While thicker gum tissues are more resilient to gum recession, they’re more prone to the development of periodontal pockets. In this case, the slight gap between teeth and gums grows longer as the infected tissues pull away from the teeth as the underlying bone tissue is lost. The resulting void becomes deeper and more prone to infection and will ultimately result in further bone loss and decreased survivability for the tooth.
Either of these conditions will require extensive treatment beyond basic plaque control. Severe gum recession, for example, may require grafting techniques to cover exposed teeth and encourage new tissue growth. Periodontal pockets, in turn, must be accessed and cleaned of infection: the deeper the pocket the more invasive the treatment, including surgery.
Regardless of what type of gum tissue you have, it’s important for you to take steps to lower your risk of gum disease. First and foremost, practice effective daily hygiene with brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque, the main cause of gum disease. You should also visit us at least twice a year (or more, if you’ve developed gum disease) for those all important cleanings and checkups.
If you would like more information on hereditary factors for gum disease, 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 “Genetics & Gum Tissue Types.”
Periodontal (gum) disease is a devastating infection that eventually causes tooth loss if not treated. Plaque removal, antibiotics and possible surgical intervention have proven quite effective in stopping the infection and restoring diseased tissues; however, the more advanced the disease, the more difficult it can be to treat. It’s important then to know the warning signs of gum disease.
Bleeding gums are the most common early sign of gum disease. The infection triggers tissue inflammation, the body’s defensive response to isolate and fight bacteria. As the inflammation becomes chronic, however, it can weaken the gum tissues, which will then bleed easily.
Bleeding, though, is often overlooked as normal, perhaps from brushing too hard. In actuality, bleeding gums is not normal: if your gums routinely bleed during normal brushing and flossing, you should contact us for an examination as soon as possible. Similarly, if your gums are red, swollen or tender to the touch, this is also a sign of inflammation and an indication of infection.
Gum disease is often called a “silent” disease, meaning it can develop without any indication of pain or discomfort. Sometimes, though, bacteria can concentrate in a particular portion of the gum tissue to form a periodontal abscess. In this case, the abscessed tissue can become very painful, swollen and red, and may even discharge pus.
There are also advanced signs of gum disease. If your teeth are painfully sensitive when you brush, consume something hot or cold, or when you bite down, this may mean the gums have pulled back (receded) from the teeth and the highly sensitive dentin and roots are now exposed. Teeth that appear to have moved or that feel loose may mean the gum tissues have significantly detached from the teeth as increasing amount of bone loss occurs. If you see any of these signs you should contact us without delay.
Regardless of the level of disease advancement when diagnosed, prompt treatment should begin as soon as possible. This is the only way to bring the infection under control and give the gum tissues a chance to heal and rejuvenate. From then on, it’s a matter of renewed dental hygiene, frequent cleanings and checkups and an ever vigilant eye for signs of returning infection.
If you would like more information on the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease, 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 “Warning Signs of Periodontal (Gum) Disease.”