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.
Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates knows how important it is to present your best face to the world — and one of the most important features of that face is a beaming smile. But there came a point when she noticed something was a little off. “I've always had good teeth, but it seemed to me as I was getting older that they weren't looking as good,” Kathy explained in a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine.
That's when she decided it was time to take action. Kathy had orthodontic treatment when she was in her fifties, and she keeps her smile bright with tooth whitening treatments. She uses a kit provided by her dentist with a safe, effective whitening solution.
Of course, a bright, healthy smile looks great anywhere — whether you're on the red carpet or “off the grid.” And you don't have to be a Hollywood star to have professional whitening treatments. In fact, teeth whitening is one of the most popular and affordable cosmetic treatments modern dentistry offers.
The basic options for professional teeth whitening include in-office bleaching or take-home kits. Both types of dentist-supervised treatments offer a safe and effective means of getting a brighter smile; the main difference is how long they take to produce results. A single one-hour treatment in the office can make your teeth up to ten shades lighter — a big difference! To get that same lightening with at-home trays, it would take several days. On the plus side, the take-home kit is less expensive, and can achieve the same results in a bit more time.
It's important to note that not all teeth can be whitened with these treatments. Some teeth have intrinsic (internal) stains that aren't affected by external agents like bleaches. Also, teeth that have been restored (with bonding or veneers, for example) generally won't change color. And you can't necessarily whiten your teeth to any degree: Every tooth has a maximum whiteness, and adding more bleach won't lighten it beyond that level. Most people, however, find that teeth whitening treatments produce noticeable and pleasing results.
What about those off-the-shelf kits or in-the-mall kiosks? They might work… or they might not. But one thing's for sure: Without a dentist's supervision, you're on your own. That's the main reason why you should go with a pro if you're considering teeth whitening. We not only ensure that your treatment is safe — we can also give you a realistic idea of what results to expect, and we will make sure that other dental problems aren't keeping you from having a great-looking smile.
How often does Kathy Bates see her dentist for a checkup and cleaning? “I go about every four months,” she noted. “I'm pretty careful about it.” And if you've seen her smile, you can tell that it pays off. If you would like more information about teeth whitening, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Important Teeth Whitening Questions Answered” and “Teeth Whitening.”
“Redesigning” a smile is a lot like remodeling a house: the technicalities of construction must blend seamlessly with what is perceived as elegant and beautiful. The first aspect — the proper materials and techniques to achieve a sound restoration — is absolutely crucial. But the aesthetic is just as important for assuring the final restoration evokes beauty and style.
Balancing these two aspects of a smile makeover requires thoughtful intent and planning. What may be pleasing aesthetically may not be technically feasible; but what may be technically sound may not have that sought-after “curb appeal.”
You and your dentist must work together to achieve the successful blending of these two aspects. That’s why it’s important for you to have full confidence in your dentist: that he or she is both technically skilled and experienced in cosmetic procedures and artistically aware of what will look best aesthetically.
The first step in your makeover is a thorough dental examination to determine the overall state of your oral health. With this “bigger picture,” your dentist will have a better understanding of what’s possible and practical for you and your situation. The exam may also reveal problems that should be treated first before any cosmetic work.
From there, you must communicate clearly to your dentist what you perceive as wrong with your smile and what you would like to have changed. While there are general principles of beauty best followed, your dental work could hypothetically take different paths depending on your desires and expectations. You might prefer a more “sexy” look or one that’s “sophisticated.” Or perhaps you only want subtle changes that still retain features expressing your individuality.
Ultimately, though, your expectations must line up with reality. Much like your house contractor, your dentist will advise you on what’s both practical and possible. And with their experience in smile enhancement, they can also help you determine what will look most attractive given your facial structure and features.
With this preliminary planning, you can be confident as the work proceeds that the end of the project will be both exciting and satisfying. And just as with your newly renovated home, you’ll be more than happy to share your smile with others.
If you would like more information on enhancing your smile through cosmetic dentistry, 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 “Beautiful Smiles by Design.”
Aches and pains in your jaw can make it difficult to sleep, eat and speak. Linthicum, MD, dentist Dr. Jason Elliott of Elliott Family Dentistry discusses common causes of jaw pain and explains treatment options.
Jaw pain has more than one cause
Jaw pain can occur if you suffer from any of these problems:
- A Blow to Your Face: Whether you walk face first into the wall during a midnight trip to the bathroom or injure your jaw during a friendly game of flag football, a blow to your face can be very painful. If the injury is mild, your jaw may start to feel better in just a few days. More severe injuries will require an evaluation in our Linthicum office.
- Grinding and Clenching: Grinding or clenching your teeth while you sleep can result in sore jaw muscles and headaches in the morning. Although you may not be aware that you grind or clench, the habit leaves telltale clues. Over time, your tooth enamel will eventually become worn down or you may crack a tooth if you don't address the problem.
- Bite Issues: Do your upper and lower teeth meet together perfectly when you close your mouth? If not, you may have a bite problem. Pain can occur when your jaw is misaligned due to a bite problem.
- Infections: The pain from a dental abscess isn't just limited to the affected tooth, but can spread into your jaw. If you have severe pain, facial swelling, swollen lymph nodes and a fever, you may have a dental abscess.
- TMJ: Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is often responsible for jaw pain. The condition occurs due to a misalignment of the ligaments, muscles and bones in the hinge joints in your jaw. The joints are located on the sides of your jaw just below your ear. In addition to pain, TMJ can cause headaches, ear pain, muscle stiffness and difficulty opening or closing your mouth.
Jaw pain treatment options
Jaw pain treatment varies depending on the source of your problem. If you grind or clench your teeth, we may recommend a nightguard. The custom-made guard fits over your bottom teeth, reducing grinding and clenching. A dental abscess is a dental emergency and requires treatment with an antibiotic and a root canal.
Braces can resolve jaw pain caused by bite problems. If TMJ is the cause of your pain, an oral splint worn during the night may be helpful.
Dental treatment can eliminate or reduce your jaw pain. Call Linthicum, MD, dentist Dr. Jason Elliott of Elliott Family Dentistry at (410) 789-6111 to schedule an appointment to discuss treatment options.
Is having good oral hygiene important to kissing? Who's better to answer that question than Vivica A. Fox? Among her other achievements, the versatile actress won the “Best Kiss” honor at the MTV Movie Awards, for a memorable scene with Will Smith in the 1996 blockbuster Independence Day. When Dear Doctor magazine asked her, Ms. Fox said that proper oral hygiene was indeed essential. Actually, she said:
"Ooooh, yes, yes, yes, Honey, 'cause Baby, if you kiss somebody with a dragon mouth, my God, it's the worst experience ever as an actor to try to act like you enjoy it!"
And even if you're not on stage, it's no fun to kiss someone whose oral hygiene isn't what it should be. So what's the best way to step up your game? Here's how Vivica does it:
“I visit my dentist every three months and get my teeth cleaned, I floss, I brush, I just spent two hundred bucks on an electronic toothbrush — I'm into dental hygiene for sure.”
Well, we might add that you don't need to spend tons of money on a toothbrush — after all, it's not the brush that keeps your mouth healthy, but the hand that holds it. And not everyone needs to come in as often every three months. But her tips are generally right on.
For proper at-home oral care, nothing beats brushing twice a day for two minutes each time, and flossing once a day. Brushing removes the sticky, bacteria-laden plaque that clings to your teeth and causes tooth decay and gum disease — not to mention malodorous breath. Don't forget to brush your tongue as well — it can also harbor those bad-breath bacteria.
While brushing is effective, it can't reach the tiny spaces in between teeth and under gums where plaque bacteria can hide. But floss can: That's what makes it so important to getting your mouth really clean.
Finally, regular professional checkups and cleanings are an essential part of good oral hygiene. Why? Because even the most dutiful brushing and flossing can't remove the hardened coating called tartar that eventually forms on tooth surfaces. Only a trained health care provider with the right dental tools can! And when you come in for a routine office visit, you'll also get a thorough checkup that can detect tooth decay, gum disease, and other threats to your oral health.
Bad breath isn't just a turn-off for kissing — It can indicate a possible problem in your mouth. So listen to what award-winning kisser Vivica Fox says: Paying attention to your oral hygiene can really pay off! For more information, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can read the entire interview with Vivica A. Fox in Dear Doctor's latest issue.
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