ARE AMALGAM FILLINGS BAD FOR ME?
If you have a sweet tooth, it is safe to say that you are probably no stranger to the dentist’s drill. If you keep your regular dentist appointments (having a checkup every six months), having your cavities filled is rarely a big deal. You go in for a cleaning, the doctor fills the cavity left by your Snickers obsession, and you go merrily about your business.
However due to the public’s increasing understanding (and curiosity) about health-care practices, the materials used in amalgam fillings have been called into question by many of our patients; Specifically, the use of mercury in silver fillings. In this article, we will explore amalgam/silver fillings containing mercury: what they are, why they are used, and if they are safe.
What are amalgam fillings?
Dental amalgam is a filling material used in the treatment of cavities caused by tooth decay. It is a liquid metallic mixture that is made up of silver, tin, copper alloys, and elemental mercury. Due to the grayish color of the completed filling, amalgams are often called “silver fillings”, although silver is only one component of the finished material.
Repairing dental caries using mercury-infused fillings is one of the most common, and oldest, dental procedures world-wide. For its 150 year history, the technique has been used on hundreds of millions of patients. Known for its durability and affordability, it still remains as one of the more popular treatment methods for tooth decay today.
Why are amalgam fillings used?
According to the American Dental Association, amalgam fillings (as opposed to other materials) are more durable, easier to apply, and cost less. In regards to safety, they go on to say: “It’s important to know that when combined with the other metals, [mercury] forms a safe, stable material. Be assured that credible scientific studies affirm the safety of dental amalgam.”
Silver fillings also harden quicker than alternatives, speeding the application process. This has been found to be especially useful in areas where medical care is difficult to find or in cases where the patient is unable to remain still for a longer procedure.
Are amalgam fillings safe?
According to the FDA, “although mercury has been associated with many serious health concerns, the amount used in silver fillings is acceptable for patients six years of age and up.” This sentiment is shared by the American Dental Association, the World Health Organization, and the World Dental Federation. In fact, almost all credible national and international sources have continuously confirmed the safety and reliability of dental amalgam since their first comprehensive study in 1997. So if you have silver fillings it seems that you do not have much cause for concern.
However, if you are worried about complications resulting from having too many mercury fillings, we recommend making an appointment with your general dentist to ease your mind. Your doctor will be able to tell you what your fillings are comprised of, their general condition, and if you should consider having them removed. If your fillings are in good shape, your doctor will most likely recommend keeping them; because the act of removing the fillings may be more harmful than leaving them in.
Conclusions and Additional Notes
Reports of complications from the use of mercury in fillings are incredibly rare. These cases are usually attributed to a general mercury allergy rather than mercury poisoning. It is the opinion of the ADA that silver/amalgam fillings are entirely safe.
Although there seems to be a consensus amongst most dental professionals that these implements are non-toxic, there are a few voices of dissent. For the sake of keeping our readers educated on both sides of the discussion, it’s good to note that countries such as Norway, Denmark, and Sweden have banned the use of amalgam fillings in dentistry; citing the well-known toxic nature of certain forms of mercury as well as issues of bioaccumulation.
If you share these concerns, there are “mercury free” dental offices in the United States that patients can visit if so inclined. However, to restate a previous point, we believe that silver fillings are typically only dangerous if a patient has a pre-existing allergy to the metals that dental amalgam is comprised of.
If you think that you may have an allergy to mercury, copper, tin, or silver, make sure to mention it to your dentist. We recommend consulting with your doctor before deciding to undertake any medical procedure.