Posts for: January, 2020
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.
Besides their life-likeness, implants are also prized for their high success rate. More than ninety-five percent of implants continue to function effectively after ten years.
Implants’ advanced technology explains some of their reliability and longevity—they’re as close to natural teeth as we’re now able to achieve. But their impressive success rate also owes to the detailed protocols that dentists follow to install them. One critical part of these protocols is ensuring a patient has enough bone in their jaw to support and precisely situate the implant for the best functional and aesthetic outcome.
Unfortunately, there are situations where a patient doesn’t have enough bone to achieve a satisfactory result. This often happens if there’s been months or years between losing the tooth and considering an implant. The reason why relates to the nature of bone as living tissue.
Like other cellular tissues in the body, bone has a life cycle: Older, worn-out cells die and are absorbed by the body, and new cells form to replace them. The growth cycle in the jaw receives stimulation from the forces generated when we chew, which travel up through the teeth to the bone.
However, this stimulation stops after tooth loss for the related area of bone, which can slow new bone growth. Over time, the volume and density of the bone around a missing tooth gradually decreases, enough eventually to make an implant impractical.
Insufficient bone volume, though, doesn’t necessarily mean an implant is out of the question. We may be able to address the problem by attempting to regenerate the bone through grafting. This is a procedure in which we insert graft material into the affected area of the jawbone. The graft then becomes a scaffold upon which bone cells can grow. After several months, we may have enough regenerated bone to support an implant.
If there’s been too much bone loss, we may still need to consider another form of restoration. But if we can successfully build up the bone around your missing tooth, this premier restoration for replacing lost teeth could become a reality for you.
Teeth-replacing dental implants not only look life-like, they’re made to last. For one thing, the metals and dental materials used in them are impervious to bacterial infection.
But that doesn’t mean implants are impervious to failure. Implants depend on the bone and other natural mouth structures for support. If the bone becomes weakened due to disease, the implant could become unstable and ultimately fail.
Peri-implantitis, the condition that can lead to this kind of failure, is a major concern for implant longevity. It’s a type of periodontal (gum) disease triggered by plaque, a thin film of food particles that can build up quickly in the absence of adequate brushing and flossing. The gum tissues around the implant become infected and inflamed.
If the infection isn’t properly treated with renewed oral hygiene and clinical plaque removal, it could spread below the gum line and begin to damage the underlying gum tissues and bone. This could destroy the all-important connection between the titanium implant post and the bone. The implant could eventually loosen and become completely detached from the bone.
The key is early intervention before the bone becomes damaged. Besides plaque removal we may also need to apply antibiotics in some form to control the growth of disease-causing bacteria. If the disease has fairly advanced we may also need to consider surgical repair to strengthen the attachment between implant and bone.
You can help to avoid peri-implantitis altogether by practicing consistent daily brushing and flossing around all your teeth including the implant, and seeing your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups. And by all means see your dentist if you notice any signs of gum swelling, redness or bleeding. Staying on top of your gum health will help not only the natural tissues and remaining teeth in your mouth, it will help preserve your implants for decades to come.