Everything you should know about amalgam fillingsMarch 10, 2020 11:39 am
An amalgam filling is used for fixing cavities in teeth. Also known as ‘silver fillings’, amalgam simply means a combination – and this type of tooth decay filling is made of different metals, including silver, zinc, copper, tin, and mercury. It’s this latter ingredient that is most well-known, and which has made many people wonder if they should have their amalgam fillings replaced. Here, we explain more about this type of filling and the debate around it.
- A quick history
Amalgam tooth decay fillings have been in use for nearly 200 years – and have been generating discussion the whole time. The most controversial component is mercury, which makes up 50% of the filling. While that sounds alarming, it’s important to understand more detail before jumping to conclusions about toxicity.
- More about mercury
Mercury is a natural chemical that’s found in oceans and rivers, though it can also come from industrial sources like factories. When it reaches water, it turns into methyl-mercury, which builds up in types of fish and shellfish that live in the water. Most people know that mercury can build up in your digestive tract, and for this reason certain types of fish are bad to eat during pregnancy, as the higher mercury levels can be dangerous for your unborn child. It’s also sensible to make sure you don’t eat too much of these types of fish in general.
- About your fillings
However, it’s not quite so simple when dealing with the mercury in your amalgam filling. This type, called elemental mercury, only releases the bad stuff (mercury vapour) when the filling is disturbed. This mercury vapour could then be breathed in by you, the patient. So, you might actually be more of a risk by taking the filling out and replacing it – rather than just leaving it where it is.
Mercury is very hardwearing and is one of the main reasons an amalgam filling can last up to 10 years! Science is yet to find another filling material that is quite so durable and inexpensive. Amalgam fillings are still used in dentists’ surgeries around the world for this reason.
- Should I be worried?
Numerous studies have been done, and the FDA states that mercury released by amalgam fillings doesn’t have an adverse effect on your internal organs. However, the exceptions to this might be if you’re pregnant, a time when mercury levels have to be carefully monitored, or if you’re a serious tooth-grinder or the filling is damaged, and therefore the filling is being disturbed more than usual. It’s always best to ask your dental clinic for advice about your particular situation.
- Other options
There are plenty of other tooth filling material options. Composite resin fillings are increasingly popular. They don’t last as long as amalgam fillings, but they do have different benefits. For example, the colour match means they are harder to spot for teeth at the front of the mouth. Composite fillings also bond with the tooth, meaning that it’s stronger.
Gold fillings are the most hardwearing material used for filling a tooth cavity, lasting up to 15 years. However, these are very expensive and require more visits to the dentist to put in place. They are also highly visible – though some people like this effect.
Ceramic lasts a little longer than composite fillings, though not as long as amalgam. These are also tooth-coloured, meaning they blend in, but are more fragile in general.
The last type of filling is glass ionomer. Kind of like a composite, this is an acrylic-glass mix that lasts a similar amount of time – around five years. This might be used by your dentist if you have decay below the gumline.
In any case, if you have mercury fillings – don’t panic. It’s best to speak to your dental clinic and take professional advice in order to decide the right type of filling for you.
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