Posts for: August, 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.
There's ample evidence tobacco smoking increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. But the same may be true for electronic cigarettes (E-cigs): Although millions have turned to “vaping” believing it's a safer alternative to smoking, there are growing signs it might also be harmful to oral health.
An E-cig is a device with a chamber that holds a liquid solution. An attached heater turns the liquid into a vapor the user inhales, containing nicotine, flavorings and other substances. Because it doesn't contain tar and other toxic substances found in tobacco, many see vaping as a safer way to get a nicotine hit.
But a number of recent research studies seem to show vaping isn't without harmful oral effects. A study from Ohio State University produced evidence that E-cig vapor interferes with the mouth's bacterial environment, or oral microbiome, by disrupting the balance between harmful and beneficial bacteria in favor of the former. Such a disruption can increase the risk for gum disease.
Other studies from the University of Rochester, New York and Universit? Laval in Quebec, Canada also found evidence for vaping's negative effects on oral cells. The Rochester study found astringent flavorings and other substances in vaping solutions can damage cells. The Quebec study found a staggering increase in the normal oral cell death rate from 2% to 53% in three days after exposure to E-cig vapor.
Nicotine, E-cig's common link with tobacco, is itself problematic for oral health. This addictive chemical constricts blood vessels and reduces blood flow to the mouth's tissues. This not only impedes the delivery of nutrients to individual cells, but also reduces available antibodies necessary to fight bacterial infections. Regardless of how nicotine enters the body—whether through smoking or vaping—it can increase the risk of gum disease.
These are the first studies of their kind, with many more needed to fully understand the effects of vaping on the mouth. But the preliminary evidence they do show should cause anyone using or considering E-cigs as an alternative to smoking to think twice. Your oral health may be hanging in the balance.
According to Forbes Magazine, Kylie Jenner is the world's youngest billionaire at age 22. Daughter of Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner and Kris Jenner, Kylie is the founder and owner of the highly successful Kylie Cosmetics, and a rising celebrity in her own right. But even this busy CEO couldn't avoid an experience many young people her age go through each year: having her wisdom teeth removed.
At around 10 million removals each year, wisdom teeth extraction is the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons. Also called the third molars, the wisdom teeth are in the back corners of the jaws, top and bottom. Most people have four of them, but some have more, some have fewer, and some never have any. They're typically the last permanent teeth to come in, usually between ages 17 and 25.
And therein lies the problem with wisdom teeth: Many times, they're coming in late on a jaw already crowded with teeth. Their eruption can cause these other teeth to move out of normal alignment, or the wisdom teeth themselves may not fully erupt and remain fully or partially within the gums (a condition called impaction). All of this can have a ripple effect, decreasing dental function and increasing disease risk.
As Kylie Jenner has just experienced, they're often removed when problems with bite or instances of diseases like tooth decay or gum disease begin to show. But not just when problems show: It's also been a common practice to remove them earlier in a kind of “preemptive strike” against dental dysfunction. But this practice of early wisdom teeth extraction has its critics. The main contention is that early extractions aren't really necessary from a medical or dental standpoint, and so patients are unduly exposed to surgical risks. Although negative outcomes are very rare, any surgical procedure carries some risk.
Over the last few years, a kind of middle ground consensus has developed among dentists on how to deal with wisdom teeth in younger patients. What has emerged is a “watch and wait” approach: Don't advise extraction unless there is clear evidence of developing problems. Instead, continue to monitor a young patient's dental development to see that it's progressing normally.
Taking this approach can lead to fewer early wisdom teeth extractions, which are postponed to a later time or even indefinitely. The key is to always do what's best for a patient's current development and future dental health.
Still, removing wisdom teeth remains a sound practice when necessary. Whether for a high school or college student or the CEO of a large company, wisdom teeth extraction can boost overall dental health and development.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth and their impact on dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Wisdom Teeth: To Be or Not to Be?”