Posts for: October, 2017
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.
Your temporomandibular joints (TMJ), located where your lower jaw meets the skull, play an essential role in nearly every mouth function. It’s nearly impossible to eat or speak without them.
Likewise, jaw joint disorders (temporomandibular joint disorders or TMD) can make your life miserable. Not only can you experience extreme discomfort or pain, your ability to eat certain foods or speak clearly could be impaired.
But don’t assume you have TMD if you have these and other symptoms — there are other conditions with similar symptoms. You’ll need a definitive diagnosis of TMD from a qualified physician or dentist, particularly one who’s completed post-graduate programs in Oral Medicine or Orofacial Pain, before considering treatment.
If you are diagnosed with TMD, you may then face treatment choices that emanate from one of two models: one is an older dental model based on theories that the joint and muscle dysfunction is mainly caused by poor bites or other dental problems. This model encourages treatments like orthodontically moving teeth, crowning problem teeth or adjusting bites by grinding down tooth surfaces.
A newer treatment model, though, has supplanted this older one and is now practiced by the majority of dentists. This is a medical model that views TMJs like any other joint in the body, and thus subject to the same sort of orthopedic problems found elsewhere: sore muscles, inflamed joints, strained tendons and ligaments, and disk problems. Treatments tend to be less invasive or irreversible than those from the dental model.
The newer model encourages treatments like physical therapy, medication, occlusive guards or stress management. The American Association of Dental Research (AADR) in fact recommends that TMD patients begin their treatment from the medical model rather than the dental one, unless there are indications to the contrary. Many studies have concluded that a majority of patients gain significant relief with these types of therapies.
If a physician or dentist recommends more invasive treatment, particularly surgery, consider seeking a second opinion. Unlike the therapies mentioned above, surgical treatments have a spotty record when it comes to effectiveness — some patients even report their conditions worsening afterward. Try the less-invasive approach first — you may find improvement in your symptoms and quality of life.
If you would like more information on treating TMD, 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 “Seeking Relief from TMD.”