In recent years the concern for potential health hazards associated with materials traditionally used in dental repairs and restorations has helped to cast a light on healthier alternatives, and so today there are a growing number of options available to all dentists.
Most everyone is familiar with that metallic glint that shines in your mouth after having a filling placed in a tooth. The metallic components in these kinds of fillings include a variety of metals and casting alloys called amalgams. Mercury-containing amalgams have been used by conventional dentistry primarily as filling materials since the mid-1800s, around the time of the Civil War. Although mercury amalgam fillings are still approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in dental restorations, most holistic dental practitioners will not use them out of concern for their patient’s overall health and well-being. In addition to being toxic to the body, mercury fillings tend to expand and contract according to the temperature changes in the mouth. This process can eventually cause decay or actual breakage of the tooth. And since mercury fillings necessitate the removal of a large portion of natural dental material they also significantly weakening the overall health of the tooth.
Casting alloy combinations such as gold, silver, cooper and platinum are used in restorations such as crowns and bridges, which effectively anchor materials like ceramics and porcelains to the tooth. While pure gold is much too soft for successful restorations it has many other properties that make it an ideal base for alloys used in dentistry. Platinum is commonly mixed with gold in order to obtain an alloy that combines the most favorable properties of each metal, and together they are resistant to tarnish and corrosion. In addition this alloy often demonstrates minimal immune reactivity in the biocompatibility testing.
Copper and palladium are sometimes used in combination with gold to modify the color, while other metals such as silver and iridium are used to strengthen the alloy. Ultimately, any numbers of combinations of metals are used to modify melting points, hardness, color and/or durability and as a result, it is important to do a bio-compatibility test before placing any alloy in the mouth.
Commonly referred to as ‘white fillings’, composite materials used in dentistry are typically a combination of glass-like and plastic materials. This type of filling is preferable to many patients for their aesthetic value as they virtually blend in with the natural enamel of the teeth. Composites are applied as a paste to the tooth cavity and typically hardened using visible blue light.
Composites contain a polymer combined with some sort of glass filler material such as quartz, borosilicate, silicon dioxide and barium glass which help to keep the composite from expanding or shrinking. These elements together provide a waterproof result that is much stronger than any one of the components alone. Ultimately, there can be thousands of possible combinations of plastic and glass material used in the makeup of a composite filling but generally they result in a ratio of approximately 30 percent plastic and 70 percent microscopic particles of glass-like material. The plastic component makes it possible for the dentist to bond the filling to the tooth while the glass-like particles help to make the material durable.
Porcelain and Ceramic Materials
Porcelain and ceramic materials are increasingly popular in dentistry and are used both for their aesthetic qualities as well as their durability. In addition to looking just like real teeth, these materials also bond well to the tooth and are less sensitive to hot and cold than their traditional silver filling counterparts.
Which ceramic component is used varies greatly depending not only on the properties of the material, but on the type and extent of restoration required. Porcelain and ceramic restorations can also be cemented or bonded in place either by a metal alloy or a studier form of ceramic.
The Use of Plastic Resins Containing BPA
A growing concern pertaining to composite materials containing plastics has to do with research which has shown that the essential components of some plastics can be toxic, potentially containing Bisphenol A (BPA), which is widely used in the manufacture of many consumer plastic products. This component raised concerns after laboratory testing suggested that BPA may affect reproduction and development in animals by mimicking the effects of the female hormone estrogen. Some more recent research has linked BPA to health consequences in humans including early puberty in girls, breast and prostate cancer and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. In dentistry it is suggested that some types of plastic composite materials can release very small quantities of BPA into the body because bis-DMA degrades in saliva and may leach into the bloodstream as a result.
Holistic Alternatives and Healthy Choices
Happily, most holistic dentists are very aware the concerns over the use of BPA in dental repairs and as a result many have taken steps to select dental composite fillings and dental sealants that do not contain compounds that might contain harmful BPA.
Check with your dentist to be sure that they are fully informed on the dangers as well as the alternatives associated with plastic composites containing BPA. In addition, a frank discussion on every aspect of the treatment including the advantages and disadvantages of each type of procedure will help you make an informed decision regarding the safety, cost, durability or longevity of your dental repair or restoration.