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Could Your Jewelry Be Causing Dental Problems?

Apr 29, 2018 06:31PM ● By Ingo Mahn

Before, during and after images of teeth being restored with conservative, biocompatible restorations.

Are you a woman who wears earrings or other types of jewelry? There is a good chance your fashion statement may be contributing to a gum tissue-irritating metal allergy.

This notion was demonstrated at a dental conference when a highly respected dentist and researcher brought up this particular subject. To make his point, he first asked the men in a crowd of 300 or so attendees to raise their hands if they had any kind of metal allergy. Only one hand went up. He then asked the women the same question. Well over half the women raised their hands! What could explain such a dramatic difference?

It turns out the source of the problem is primarily jewelry. In particular, jewelry with a high content of nickel. Nickel is a metal that can be both irritating and toxic to the immune system and is found in concentrations as high as 8 to 10 percent in stainless steel (and as high as 2 percent in white gold). With the average age of ear piercing getting earlier and earlier, many girls are exposed to nickel as young as 6 or 7 years old and will at some point in their life report being unable to tolerate wearing earrings (unless made from 24-karat gold) because of an allergic-type reaction.

Imagine now if this same metal was a component in the metal of a crown placed in your mouth. For many years, dentists have placed “porcelain-fused-to-metal” crowns. This means, even if a crown looks to be completely ceramic, it has a metal substructure to give it strength. The dental laboratory, based on the instructions from the dentist, will make this unseen part of the crown from a variety of metals. These can range from high-quality gold alloys (a mixture of metals) to very inexpensive alloys containing nickel and chrome. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, as the price of gold rose dramatically, so did the percentage of crowns made from the cheaper nickel-containing metals.

It is not unusual to see a ring of bright red, inflamed gum tissue, which easily bleeds, around these types of crowns. This condition is commonly misdiagnosed as gum disease, stemming from a lack of proper oral hygiene. However, as soon as the offending crown is removed, the tissue immediately returns to health.

Fortunately, fewer of these types of crowns are used today. Dentists now have the option of placing zirconium-based nonmetallic crowns. Because of their tooth-like appearance as well as their exceptional strength, these are becoming ever more popular.

An even better option, in the case where a tooth does not already have a crown, is that a crown may not be needed at all. Crowns often involve the removal of a significant amount of healthy tooth structure. This can be avoided by restoring the tooth with a more conservative tooth-preserving bonded restoration, such as an inlay or an onlay.

In any case, make sure to let your dentist know if you have any history of metal sensitivities; it will help them to choose the proper course of treatment and select materials that will help you achieve optimal health. 

Dr. Ingo Mahn is a 1985 graduate of Marquette University School of Dentistry. He is an accredited member of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) and earned a doctorate in integrative medicine from Capital University, in Georgetown. He recently opened Natural Dental Partners, a high-tech, health-centered practice in North Phoenix. For more information, call 602-775-5120 or visit (website includes a list of his upcoming live seminars).