Although dentists often offer a few different material options for fillings when treating a cavity, two of the most common are composite and amalgam. Each option has its own pros and cons, but in the past several years, rumors have circulated that amalgam fillings are unsafe because they contain mercury, but is this true? Are amalgam fillings safe . . . or not?
Are Amalgam Fillings Safe?
Let’s get right to it!
Are amalgam fillings safe?
Yes, amalgam fillings are a safe and effective treatment for tooth decay. If they weren’t, your dentist wouldn’t offer them! They’ve been used to fill cavities since about 1830, so at this point, they’re a tried-and-true treatment option. They’re strong, affordable, long-lasting, and less likely to break when compared to some other filling materials. Plus, they’re well suited to larger cavities. Only your dentist can tell you whether amalgam is the best choice for your teeth.
What are amalgam fillings made of?
Although amalgam fillings are sometimes called “silver fillings,” they aren’t made entirely of silver. Their silver color comes from two primary components: (1) liquid mercury and (2) a powder containing silver, tin, copper, zinc, and other materials. Nearly equal parts of these two components are used to create amalgam fillings.
Is the mercury in amalgam fillings unsafe?
First, keep in mind that mercury is a natural metal found in the environment, and everyone is exposed to it in some form (through air, water, soil, or food) in small amounts.
It’s true that amalgam fillings release small amounts of mercury vapor when they are applied/removed and when you chew. It’s also true that you can absorb these vapors through inhalation or ingestion. However, the FDA considers amalgam fillings safe for almost all people over the age of six. They do not recommend mercury fillings for people more likely to experience adverse health effects due to mercury exposure. These include women who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant, nursing mothers, people with a neurological impairment or kidney dysfunction, people who are allergic or sensitive to the materials in amalgam (mercury, silver, copper, tin, zinc), or children below the age of six.
If you’re curious, the mercury in dental amalgam is not the same mercury found in some types of fish. It is elemental mercury, whereas fish may contain an organic mercury called methylmercury.
Are there alternatives to amalgam fillings?
Although amalgam fillings are safe, some people dislike them for other reasons. They require more tooth structure to be removed before application, and they’re quite noticeable in the mouth due to their color. They may expand and contract due to temperature changes, potentially causing fractures. Plus, some people are allergic to them, and some dentists simply don’t offer them. Fortunately, there are several other restorative materials available, including composite resin, glass ionomer, resin ionomer, porcelain, and/or gold alloy. Each of these materials has its pros and cons.
So, are amalgam fillings safe? Yes, but it’s important that you discuss your options with your dental team to choose the right filling material for your specific situation.
If you’re looking for an experienced, reliable, and friendly dentist near Springfield, Missouri, contact Wilkinson Dental. Dr. Wilkinson and his team will give you the personalized treatment you deserve using state-of-the-art technology. For exceptional and comprehensive dental care, schedule your first appointment today by calling 417-708-0556 or requesting an appointment online. We look forward to hearing from you!