What is dental amalgam?
Dental amalgams or silver filings have reportedly been used as early as 659 A.D., France began using the materials in 1826 and the United States in 1833. Dental amalgam is made out of a mixture of metals such as silver, copper, tin, and combined with mercury. The mercury makes up between 45-50 percent of the mixture and acts as a glue that binds the components into a hard, stable, and safe substance called a Eutectic Alloy that is manipulated and placed in the tooth. In fact, amalgam is the least costly, quickest way to restore teeth, and is used in approximately 50 percent of all dental fillings.
Is dental amalgam safe?
Dental amalgam has been used for more than 150 years in the US, and can last in a patient's mouth for more than 20 years is many cases. No scientific studies have demonstrated that the mercury contained in dental amalgam is harmful. For example, studies show that the mercury found in a filling is less than a person’s normal exposure to the mercury found in food, water and air. Therefore, dentists continue to place amalgams to preserve a tooth. The United States Public Health Service and the FDA’s Dental Products Panel are some of the many organizations that have determined after major, long-term studies that amalgam is safe for preserving a tooth’s structure.
Amalgam has been claimed to cause some health problems, such as dizziness, headaches, fatigue, nervousness and sometimes compromised general health. The only people, however, who been found to have a true reaction to amalgam are those who are allergic to one of the metal components, which is less than one percent of the population. If you think you have a sensitivity to amalgam, ask your physician or dentist for a blood test.
How is my tooth prepared for a filling?
Once your doctor determines that you have decay, it is important to remove it. Once the decay is removed, the amalgam is mixed and placed onto the tooth. The final filling is then carved and adjusted to your bite. Once placed, it can take up to two weeks for your filling to harden completely. However, you may chew on the surface twenty-four hours later. If you have any prolonged discomfort with the tooth, contact your dentist for an evaluation.
Should I get my amalgams replaced?
With all the questions about amalgam, many people wonder whether they should have their fillings replaced. Removal of fillings, however, can cause structural damage to your teeth and cause unnecessary expense. So, unless you are allergic to amalgam, leave your sound silver amalgam fillings alone.
You should be aware that in many jurisdictions it could be illegal for a dentist to advise you to remove your fillings without a proper medical diagnosis. The American Dental Association has warned its members that they can be sued for malpractice if they promote removal of silver fillings based on medical reasons.
It is necessary to replace amalgam fillings when they become loose, cracked or broken.
Are there other options to amalgams?
The decision in placing other restoration materials should be decided by you and your dentist depending on several factors, including esthetic concerns, cost, tooth location, your wishes and time demands.
Other materials include gold, porcelain and composite resin, some of which may not be as durable as amalgam and can be more expensive. Composite resin and porcelain will allow your tooth to look more natural, and may cost many times more than traditional amalgam fillings. Sources: American Dental Association, Centers for Disease Control and the Academy of General Dentistry
From the Academy of General Dentistry
Dr. Guy C. Clark