Does Dental Amalgam Pose Any Health Risks?

Since the 19th century, dental amalgam which is also known as silver fillings has been the preferred filling material for dental cavities. Its use became popular since it is not only effective for treating tooth decay, but it is also low-cost and lasts a long time. Despite its success, there always has been controversy regarding its use. This article addresses some of the concerns that have been raised over the use of dental amalgam and advise patients on the way forward.

What is Dental Amalgam?

Dental amalgam is a combination of metals that make a dental filling material that is used to seal cavities. It consists of a mixture of copper, tin, and silver that are dissolved in liquid mercury. In some cases, the amalgam may also contain trace amounts of zinc, palladium, and indium. Since they have a silver color, most people think that they are mostly made up of silver. This is however not the case; silver is just one of the alloys used and about 50% of amalgam is actually mercury.
Besides sealing cavities, dental amalgam has proven to be very versatile. It can be used to repair worn-down teeth or teeth that have cracked, chipped, or broken.

What is Mercury?

It is a chemical element also known as quicksilver which is present in the environment in many forms. There are two main types of mercury: methylmercury and elemental mercury. Methylmercury is mercury combined with carbon and cannot be seen with the naked eye. You will mostly find it in household items like batteries and fluorescent lights water, soil, plants, and some animals, especially fish. Elemental mercury on the other hand is mercury when it is yet to react with any other substance. It is a pure form of mercury that evaporates into toxic vapor when heated. It looks appears as a metallic silver liquid and mostly found in thermometers, barometers, and of course in silver fillings.

Why Is Mercury Used in Dental Amalgam?

Mercury is the only metal element that is available in a liquid state at standard conditions. It, therefore, creates a flexible compound that can be easily manipulated to fit into the tooth needing repair. It also hardens very fast and has the ability to resist mastication forces over a long time.

Safety Concerns

Considering that mercury occurs naturally in the environment, we all have been exposed to it at some point either through the air, water, soil, or food. Some experts say that exposure from dental amalgam is similar to this kind of exposure we may experience in daily life. In 2017, the FDA concluded that amalgam fillings are safe for both adults and children as there is no indication that the health of people with dental amalgam is compromised or that going for mercury amalgam removal will have any benefit to your health. They however put a precaution that pregnant women or people with sensitivity to mercury should have a dentist seek other treatment options.

There are still two sides to the safety of amalgam fillings. Some studies indicate that the fillings could be releasing low levels of vapor over time, which is then inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. Brushing your teeth, chewing gums, and even consuming hot drinks are all thought to contribute to sweeping small amounts of mercury from the filling, into your system. If over time you end accumulating too much mercury in the body, you may start to experience some adverse effects such as memory problems, numbness, tremors, anxiety, vision changes, etc. in serious cases where mercury poisoning occurs, patients may suffer permanent brain and kidney damage.

At Smiles for Health, we are dedicated to providing patients with wellness dental care. If you are torn on what to believe when it comes to amalgam fillings, you can still find a variety of options that work just as well. Our dentist in Carlsbad, CA might propose the use of modern fillings such as composite resins which can be used to fill teeth while blending in with the tooth’s enamel for a natural appearance. Other dental fillings available include porcelain and silver amalgam. You will always be advised on the benefits and drawbacks of each filling method so that you can make an informed decision.