How Safe are Dental Amalgam Fillings?

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The truth about Dental amalgam filling Material

Dental amalgam is a type of dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay.

Dental amalgam is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid (elemental) mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin, and copper. Approximately half (50%) of dental amalgam is elemental mercury by weight. The chemical properties of elemental mercury allow it to react with and bind together the silver/copper/tin alloy particles to form an amalgam.

For a long time amalgam was the most widely used filling because of its durability and low cost. These type of filling materials are particularly used for the back teeth and mostly preferred by the patients as they can last for more than 10 years. However, its major downside is that it does not match the natural color of teeth.

There has been lots of discussions and debates about the continued use of Dental amalgam in dental practices across the world. The concerns are always about the presence of mercury—but it is important to note that this is not the same mercury that causes health concerns. 

It is also important to note that dental amalgam is still one of the type of filling materials that is approved by FDA, which consequently mean it is considered safe.  The concerns are however valid especially given the publicity about mercury in dental amalgam fillings.

The controversy about the safety of mercury started in the 1970s, causing many patients to question their dentist. Some dentists and groups were claiming that the mercury in amalgam fillings was causing serious diseases, such as heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and more. There was even some anecdotal evidence that symptoms eased after fillings were removed from patients. However, it appears that these claims were made without any sort of research, and for the financial gain of just a few.

Since then, clinical studies have shown that mercury levels in people with amalgam fillings are well below the level where the mercury could cause health problems.

Not only that, but the kind of mercury used in amalgam fillings is of a wholly different type. The mercury that is toxic to humans is something known as “methylmercury.” This is also the kind of mercury sometimes found in fish, and which has led to concerns about mercury in the environment. The mercury used in fillings is elemental mercury, which is quite different. This is the same mercury found in old-fashioned thermometers. This type of mercury will not cause mercury poisoning in humans.

All that said, some still advise caution. The FDA’s updated recommendation on dental amalgam, for example, state that exposure to mercury may pose a greater health risk to certain populations: 

  • Pregnant women
  • Nursing women.
  • Children, especially those that are under the age of six.
  • People with kidney problems.
  • People with pre-existing neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, or Alzheimer’s.

The FDA suggests dentists use alternatives like resin and glass cement fillings for people in those vulnerable categories. It does not recommend that people remove or replace fillings in good condition. Removal can increase exposure to mercury vapor, not to mention it can hurt an otherwise healthy tooth structure.

Note that, after the FDA guidance was updated, the American Dental Association (ADA) said it “reaffirms its position that dental amalgam is a durable, safe and effective cavity-filling option.”

 Our team of dental health professionals is ready to help you restore your smile and provide you with the best care and the best materials to achieve the most positive outcome. Contact our team today to learn more and arrange for your free, no-obligation dental consultation. We look forward to speaking with you!

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