This week, Bloomberg ran a piece on the decline of gold in dentistry. On the one hand, the article has great facts about the decline of gold as a restoration material, but on the other hand, it is completely tone-deaf about some of the real reasons why people are going against gold for their crowns
The good parts of the article are in areas where Bloomberg is highly qualified. The facts about the dramatically dropping demand for gold are striking. Over the last five years, the use of gold in dentistry worldwide has dropped 60%, from about 45 metric tons to about 19. That is staggering when you consider that, in general, people have more access to dental restorations than ever. The decline has gone on for at least the last decade–ten years ago 67 tons of gold were used in dental restorations each year.
Part of the reason for decline is the dramatic instability in the price of gold. In January 2010, gold cost about $1100 an ounce, but by mid 2012 it had reached $1900, a 72% increase, before falling back down to about $1200. Nobody wants to see that kind of instability in the price of materials, not patients and not dentists, so when there’s an alternative available, it just makes sense for people to seek a more favorable material.
A Superficial Understanding of Cosmetic Dentistry
Where the article fails is that it simply attributes this decline to “teeth whitening.” Dentists in the article are quoted speaking disparagingly about people wanting white teeth. While it is true that teeth whitening has expanded dramatically in popularity, there is more to cosmetic dentistry than whiteness, and all of it spells doom for the use of gold in dentistry.
One of the biggest trends in cosmetic dentistry recently is toward biomimetic dentistry, the idea that dental restorations should look like natural teeth. Dramatic advancements in cosmetic dentistry techniques and materials allow us to make restorations that look more like natural teeth than ever, and people are attracted to that.
In the past, people were attracted to visible dentistry because, first, not everyone could afford sugar so only wealthy people got decay, and, second, only wealthy people could afford dentistry, so visible dental work was a status symbol. Today, that is long past, and people want their smile to look natural.
also works against gold restorations. There are many different definitions of holistic dentistry, but for our purposes here, let us say it is the functional equivalent of biomimetic dentistry: you want materials in your mouth that function as much like your natural teeth as possible. Metals don’t fit this ideal well–especially amalgam fillings, but also gold restorations.
As people have come to understand some of the potential health effects of metal restorations, they have turned on all metal restorations, including gold.
Another essential aspect that Bloomberg is missing is that dental technology has improved so dramatically that we now have better alternatives to gold than in the past. Advanced ceramics allow us to use ceramics in situations where we could only use gold in the past. Given the option of getting a tooth replacement that actually looks like a tooth or one that is simply metal, most of us will choose the natural one, and enjoy the longevity of these new crowns.
While it’s possible that gold may one day return to dentistry, what we’re seeing is more than a fad, it’s a genuine trend in dentistry, for the better.
If you are looking for dental restorations that look and function like your natural teeth, please call for an appointment with Nashville cosmetic dentist Dr. Kent E. White at the Center for Advanced Dentistry.