What Are Tooth Fillings Made Of? (Hint: Not Frosting!)

What Are Tooth Fillings Made Of? (Hint: Not Frosting!)

man wonders what dental fillings are made ofAsk anyone over the age of 40 and they’ll tell you that getting a dental filling used to mean adding a gleam of metal to your mouth. Recently, modern dentistry has adopted new high-tech materials that imitate the look of natural teeth, allowing tooth-colored dental fillings to become the norm in many dental practices around the world.

Metal fillings are still a perfectly normal and effective way to repair a damaged tooth. Metal fillings are called amalgam fillings by dentists. This name comes from the fact the material is an alloy of metals (including silver, copper, tin, and zinc). Some amalgams can also contain small amounts of mercury, but the American Dental Association has determined that the amount of mercury is so small that it doesn’t post a health risk to patients (source). However, if you’re concerned and would rather avoid the presence of mercury completely, you should choose composite fillings or gold fillings instead.

Composite resin fillings are what dentists call tooth-colored or “white” fillings. Composite is an artificial tooth-like material that is a blend of hard durable plastics and glass. In this way, composite resin imitates your natural tooth enamel, which is also a glass-like material. The dentist also adds coloring agents to the composite resin to ensure it is indistinguishable from the rest of your tooth.

Gold fillings are a different type of metal fillings. Unlike amalgam, they are made entirely from gold. Also, unlike amalgams and composite fillings, gold fillings are cast from a mold of your tooth then applied, a process that requires two dental visits. Both amalgam and composite fillings are sculpted from a pliable material then hardened in place, allowing the treatment to be completed in one visit.

You should know that some insurance companies consider amalgam fillings to be the standard of care and view composite fillings as a cosmetic option. While amalgam and composite fillings serve the same purpose in terms of repairing your tooth, composite fillings cost a little more. As a result, some dental insurance plans don’t cover or reimburse the cost of composite fillings as much as they cover amalgam fillings.

However, please remember that all decisions about your oral health should be between you and your dentist. How much of the cost of a treatment is covered by your insurance should not be considered with the same weight as a treatment recommendation from a clinician or your own personal preferences. In other words, don’t feel obligated to choose one treatment over another based on what your insurance covers or reimburses you for. If you prefer to have nearly invisible, tooth-colored fillings, you should feel free to choose composite fillings.

If you have any questions about the options we offer for fillings, or any questions about the treatment procedures, please feel free to ask us at any time!

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The Role of the Dental Assistant in Your Health

The Role of the Dental Assistant in Your Health

dental assistant at the dental practiceDental assistants are often described as the dentist’s right hand. They are vital members of the dental team who ensure that you are cared for in a timely, efficient manner in a super clean, germ-free practice. While the exact duties of a dental assistant vary from state to state, province to province, and country to country, in all places their role is to help with any tasks that don’t require a dentist or a dental hygienist’s certification and training.

Many dental assistants (called dental nurses in the United Kingdom and Ireland) have both clinical and administrative skills and responsibilities. This means they help the dental practice run smoothly and efficiently and they are also directly involved with certain parts of your oral health care.

The most common interaction most patients have with a dental assistant is taking x-rays. Dental assistants have specialized training and certification to take dental x-rays and will often help out the rest of the dental team by taking care of this task.

Most dental assistants are also in charge of infection control at the dental practice. This means keeping the dental operatory and all the tools the dentists and dental hygienists use perfectly clean and germ-free. For example, metal hand tools are sterilized using a system called an autoclave that uses high-powered, super-hot steam to eliminate any microbes that could cause illness. The dental assistant also gets the dental chair ready for you before your visit.

Expanded duties or expanded function dental assistants (EDDA or EFDA) have specialized training and certification that allows them to perform certain dental procedures on a patient under the direct or indirect supervision of a dentist. For example, in some states, an EFDA can help the dentist by applying dental fillings.

Whatever a specific dental assistant’s job duties may be, his or her mission is to make sure every patient is comfortable, safe and welcome. Be sure to appreciate your dental assistant next time you visit our office!

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Is Tooth Polishing Necessary?

Is Tooth Polishing Necessary?

woman with great dental healthWe know that for most of our patients, their favorite part of a dental cleaning is how smooth and clean their teeth feel afterward, not to mention how shiny they are. Tooth polishing has long been part of the dental checkup routine ever since the 1700s when Pierre Fauchard, the father of modern dentistry, recommended it. However, if you’ve had your teeth cleaned recently (and you have, right?) you may have noticed that your dentist or hygienist didn’t polish every single tooth. That’s because the results of recent studies are changing how dentists and dental hygienists approach polishing.

First, let’s do a quick review of what happens during a dental cleaning appointment. The whole point of a dental cleaning is to remove plaque and tartar that has accumulated on your teeth. If not removed, this bacteria-laden debris can lead to cavities and gum disease. The hygienist will go after the most stubborn buildup with an ultrasonic tool, which uses the power of fine vibrations to break up tartar and water to flush it away. Next, the hygienist may use hand tools to remove any smaller spots of buildup and to smooth out the tooth surface.

After your teeth have been thoroughly cleaned and all the plaque and tartar removed, then it’s time for polishing. Most polishing is done with a tiny rubber cup that spins on the end of a hand-held wand. Before polishing your teeth, the hygienist scoops up some prophy paste onto the rubber cup. Prophy paste is like an extra-gritty version of toothpaste, which often comes in similar flavors. The hygienist then applies the prophy paste to your teeth, and the spinning of the cup polishes your teeth and removes stains. After rinsing your mouth, the hygienist may floss your teeth, then apply a fluoride treatment, which helps teeth absorb minerals that make them stronger.

In fact, removing surface stains is the primary purpose of tooth polishing these days. In the past, it was thought that polishing teeth to make them smoother made it harder for the bacteria-laden gunk that leads to gum disease and tooth decay to attach to teeth. It turns out that removing plaque and tartar during the ultrasonic scaling part of your hygiene visit is really what helps keep bacteria from adhering (plus your daily home oral hygiene routine, of course). While polishing certainly smooths out your teeth, it hasn’t been shown to make a huge difference in preventing gum disease or tooth decay. In fact, some studies have shown that polishing can even temporarily weaken your tooth enamel, making your teeth slightly more vulnerable until the outer layer of enamel grows back.

Many dental professionals now consider polishing to be primarily a cosmetic procedure. That’s why some dentists and hygienists only do selective polishing, in which they only choose certain teeth to polish, such as those with superficial stains that didn’t get removed by the ultrasonic cleaning or hand tools. So while polishing is certainly nice to get that perfectly smooth feeling after your appointment, don’t be alarmed if your hygienist doesn’t polish all of your teeth. Polishing is not as important to preventing oral problems as the ultrasonic cleaning and manual removal of plaque and tartar and tooth-strengthening fluoride treatments.

If you have any questions about the dental cleaning process, always feel free to ask us! We look forward to seeing you at your next appointment.

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