Amalgam fillings, the silver-colored dental fillings we’re all familiar with, have become controversial due to concerns about their mercury content. Are they really dangerous? Despite the American Dental Association’s assurance that they’re safe, the belief in their danger is so strong that they have been banned in some countries.
What’s the Concern?
The word “amalgam” means mixture. Amalgam fillings are a combination of silver, copper and mercury. Mercury is a toxin, but according to the ADA, the mercury in dental fillings is inorganic and does not absorb easily into the human body. While the safety of amalgam dental fillings is backed by studies, many people do not want mercury-containing fillings their teeth. Why?
Beyond potential toxicity, the metal in amalgam fillings expands and contracts with heat and cold. As they change size, they can crack the very teeth they are meant to protects, leaving gaps for bacteria and decay to set in. In addition to concerns about health, there is also a concern that these fillings are a hazard to the environment.
In response, the European countries of Sweden, Denmark, Germany and Austria have banned or recommended the banning of amalgam dental fillings.
Could white be the best way to go?
The alternative to amalgam fillings is composite fillings. White composite fillings have several advantages in addition to the lack of mercury.
They are the color of teeth, so cosmetically have a great advantage over silver-colored fillings. Composite fillings cost more because they involve a more complex placement process. But in addition to being more attractive and potentially safer, they avoid some of the tooth preparation that’s necessary with the placement of mercury fillings. Because composite fillings stick to the surface of the tooth, it is not necessary for any of the healthy portion of the tooth to be cut away to create a cavity for the filling material to enter, as it is with mercury fillings.
As the debate over mercury fillings continues, people who already have them may be interested in having them replaced with composite fillings. Women planning pregnancy or people with immune system problems are among the people who might want to consider eliminating metal in their mouths as much as possible.
Other types of fillings available are resin filling and porcelain fillings. Anyone who is interested in getting rid of their metal fillings should contact a mercury-free dentist. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me and I’ll reply by tomorrow. If you have an opinion on this debate, please feel free to post it.