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Dental "Grills" Hard on the Teeth and Gums

Dental "grills" hard on the teeth and gums

July 12, 2006

Dental grills may bring a lot of "bling" to a smile, but wearing these devices can cause lasting damage, warns Dr. Matt Messina, consumer advisor to the American Dental Association.

Popular among the hip-hop culture, grills or "fronts" are removable dental fixtures that fit over the teeth and snap into place. They are often made of precious metals such as gold, silver and platinum with diamond inlays, although cheaper metals are also used to make these cosmetic devices. They may range in price from $20 to thousands of dollars.

Messina, who practices dentistry in the Cleveland area, said there are a lot more risks involved with a grill than most people think. "Since it's removal, people generally think it's safe. That's not really true," he said.

Since it snaps over the teeth, food and bacteria get trapped underneath and can cause gum infections, irritations and cavities, Messina noted, "and the longer it stays in the mouth, the worse the problems are."

"If someone brushed and flossed really well, put in a grill that fit well and was made of precious metals, kept it for an hour or two, snapped it back out and brushed and flossed again, there probably wouldn't be a lot of problems, but that's just not what people do," Messina said. The grills themselves need to be cleaned daily as well.

The type of metal used to make the grill is a key factor. "The expensive grills made of gold or platinum -- those are very biocompatible metals -- they do okay with the body," Messina said.

Cheap grills made of non-precious metals may be particularly troublesome, Messina said, because they contain a lot of nickel and other non-precious metals that can cause allergic reactions. It's estimated that one in seven people have a metal allergy.

"What we are trying to do," he said, "is get people to understand the risks involved before investing a lot of money in a grill or causing damage."

Messina advises grill wearers who experience any redness, swelling or pain in the gum tissue, to stop wearing the grill and see a dentist. "And bring the grill along so diagnosis is not a guessing game."

It's hard to say just how many people are wearing dental grills. "There certainly are enough places making these devices that there is some interest out there," Messina said, "but like many fads I know it is going to play itself out, which is a very good thing."

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