Amalgam fillings go by other names, such as silver fillings and mercury fillings. This material has been used by dentists around the world for more than 150 years to help people keep their teeth when a cavity develops. Rather than having to yank a tooth because of decay, dentists can fill it and restore its strength.
You or someone you love might even have a mercury filling in one or more of your teeth already. Unfortunately, despite their long history and widespread use, there is quite a bit of controversy and concern surrounding the use of mercury fillings. So, what are some of the things that you should be aware of so that you can make more informed decisions when you’re at the dentist and told that you have a cavity? Check out the info below to learn more.
Do amalgam fillings contain mercury? The answer is yes, they do. But there’s more to it.
Beyond mercury, which makes up roughly half of the filling, other metals are used to create a durable material that will last a long time and withstand pressure from chewing. Those metals include copper, silver, and tin.
Because these fillings are visible, thanks to their silvery appearance, many people today opt for composite fillings instead because they’re tooth-colored and, therefore, not obvious when you open your mouth. But newer fillings can be more expensive, and they may not be appropriate in all cases, so amalgam is still commonly used.
According to the FDA, if you get an amalgam filling, the great thing about it is that there’s a lower chance of it breaking compared to other materials. Plus, it’s the most affordable of the options available. But experts do admit that there are some potential risks to consider before you and your dentist decide to go with amalgam.
So, here’s the thing: because these fillings have elemental mercury in them, a low level of mercury vapor is released. And that vapor can, indeed, be absorbed by your lungs when you inhale. Okay, that’s kind of scary, right? But it gets worse: if your body is exposed to high levels of this vapor, the kidneys and brain might also be affected. It’s no wonder that there are so many concerns about mercury fillings!
Then there’s a little something known as bioaccumulation, which is the term used for the buildup of a chemical within the body. You guessed it—mercury, even from a filling, is considered bioaccumulative. Basically, the vapor from these fillings can build up in certain tissues, including those in the brain and kidneys, even though the vapor is absorbed mostly by the lungs.
That’s a lot of bad news about amalgam fillings, huh? But there’s something else that you should know: the FDA has stated that they’ve reviewed available evidence in an effort to figure out if a low amount of mercury vapor from a filling would really be harmful to human health.
Bottom line: experts have concluded that these fillings are safe after all. In fact, children from age 6 and above, as well as adults, of course, can get a mercury filling without having to worry about it having an adverse effect on their health.
On top of that, clinical studies in kids and adults haven’t been able to find any link between health problems and the mercury in dental fillings. Phew!
And you know how it could bioaccumulate? Well, studies haven’t been able to prove that this causes any actual damage to the body’s organs. That’s a relief, right?
It’s worth noting that some people may be sensitive to mercury, or they might even be allergic to it. Beyond that, some individuals might not be the right candidates for an amalgam filling because they’re allergic to the other metals within it.
Symptoms of an adverse reaction to an amalgam filling include contact reactions and oral lesions. Ouch!
The best way to avoid these reactions is to let your dentist know if you’re allergic to any of the components in the fillings. Don’t worry, modern dentistry offers so many great alternatives that will help you get your teeth strong and healthy again.
With newer filling materials available, you might be thinking, “Should I just replace my old amalgam fillings?” According to experts, the short answer is, no, you don’t really have to, unless you’re sensitive or allergic to the mercury or the other metals in the amalgam.
Also, if your fillings aren’t holding up anymore, or if there is decay under a filling, you can have an old filling removed and replaced with a different material, such as a composite filling. But if your fillings are still in good shape and your teeth are fine, there’s likely no need to go through the trouble—and expense—of having them replaced.
Plus, when you have an amalgam filling removed, more vapor will be released in the process. And your dentist will have to remove more healthy tooth, too. So, as you can see, it might not be worth it. But, ultimately, this important decision will be up to you and your dentist.
If you’re still concerned about mercury in fillings, or if you’re pregnant and you need to have dental work done, it’s best to consult with your dentist to learn about the pros and cons of amalgam. You can even let your dentist know that you’re interested in learning about other, newer filling materials that contain less mercury or no mercury at all. No matter what, you have options, whether you choose to go with good old amalgam or an alternative filling material to restore the health of your teeth.