Examining Amalgam Fillings

The traditional silver fillings that patients have been getting for many years have come into the spotlight in recent years. Some people wonder if these silver, or amalgam, fillings are safe because they contain small amounts of mercury.

Background
Amalgam fillings contain a mixture of half liquid mercury and half a blend of silver, copper, and tin. This material is soft and malleable, which makes it easy to be sculpted to fit well into the tooth and not affect the patient’s bite. Amalgam fillings have been used to fill cavities for over 150 years.

Risks
The concern about mercury as an ingredient in amalgam fillings is due to the health risks of toxicity or allergies associated with exposure. Significant mercury exposure can cause chronic illnesses, autoimmune disorders, birth defects, oral lesions, and mental disorders. The FDA has investigated the safety of amalgam fillings, however, and determined that the mercury levels are too low to present adverse health risks for adults or children over age six. It has also been deemed safe for nursing mothers to have amalgam fillings. Both the FDA and the American Dental Association maintain that these types of fillings are safe.

Alternatives
Patients who are uncomfortable with amalgam fillings may choose composite resin material instead. This newer type of filling is used in about 70 percent of fillings performed today, and many patients prefer the tooth-colored resin because it is less noticeable in the mouth than silver fillings. Patients who have concerns about amalgam fillings already in place may ask the dentist about switching to composite resin instead.

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