If you have teeth…you probably have a filling. In the past, the most popular material for fillings was silver (amalgam). However in recent years there has been controversy about the safety of silver amalgam fillings. Let’s take a closer look at the reality of amalgams so you can decide whether to remove them or not, or consider getting new fillings made with today’s recommended materials.
Amalgams are metallic alloys. The majority of the alloy is made of silver and tin, while copper and mercury exist in minor quantities, among other materials.
Mercury represents a health hazard because it is poisonous when introduced into the air or blood. Free mercury can be in the form of vapor or liquid droplets. The greatest danger of mercury toxicity comes when the vapor is inhaled. This can occur when the dentist is mixing the alloy. Also, some people can be allergic to mercury, however this condition is very rare.
To minimize exposure, amalgams come in pill form. A machine mixes the content without opening the pill. When the dentist accesses it, the mixture is ready to be placed in the tooth.
Dentists also use techniques to isolate the tooth that is being treated; therefore the patients have minimal exposure.
Why is mercury necessary if it is so dangerous?
Mercury is necessary because it is the only element that can start the reaction with the alloy to mix the elements.
In an amalgam, mercury is mixed with the other components of the alloy to create a mixture suitable for placement inside the tooth as a filling. At this point, the mercury inside this mass has formed a matrix that comes to the surface of the filling, it is rapidly eliminated when the dentist carves the tooth so you can chew on it. For this reason, amalgams are considered non-toxic once they are placed.
Controversy arises here, some dentists say there could be remnants of mercury that were not completely eliminated, and that eventually will come out as vapor affecting the patient. Others disagree, saying that the mixture, placing and the carving of the material is enough to eliminate any residue.
Pros and Cons
On the bright side, amalgams have been used successfully be dentists for many years, and toxicity reports are still rare. Amalgams are durable materials, they are cheaper than resin composites and it is easier and faster to have them placed. They have reported long-term great results.
On the other hand, amalgams are more prone to corrode over time and are not as natural looking as the newer white filling materials. In fact amalgams may even stain the tooth structure after a few years. Although the newest composite resins are excellent materials and preferred by many dentists and patients, they do not last as long as amalgams do.
If you are considering changing your old amalgams because you do not like them, even if you are symptom free, consult with your dentist first to evaluate the possibility of restoring the tooth first with composites or with dental crowns.
Some dental clinics also offer safe mercury-removal programs with special equipment that reduces mercury vapor exposure.
If you are interested in having your mercury fillings removed or would like to speak with a dentist about new fillings, fill out the “Help me find a Dentist!” form and a participating dental specialist will contact you to discuss your case.