The Dangers of Amalgam Fillings and Safer Alternatives

Dental fillings are essential to modern dentistry, used to treat cavities and prevent further tooth decay. For years, amalgam fillings, also called silver fillings, were the standard choices for dentists. However, recent concerns about the potential risks of mercury exposure from amalgam fillings have led many patients to seek safer alternatives.

In this blog, we will explore the dangers of amalgam fillings and discuss some available alternative materials, such as composite resin and porcelain, which are safer and more aesthetically pleasing.

What Is Amalgam?

Dental amalgam fillings are a mixture of metals used to fill cavities in teeth. The amalgam is typically composed of metals such as copper, tin, and small amounts of mercury. The mercury in the mixture binds the other metals together, creating a strong, durable filling material that can withstand the forces of chewing and biting.

Dental amalgam fillings are popular because they are relatively inexpensive, easy to place, and have a long lifespan. However, they have become controversial in recent years due to concerns about the potential health risks of mercury exposure.

Are Amalgam Fillings Still Used?

Dental amalgam has been used for over 150 years, and millions of patients have benefited from it. Usually, it is used as a filling for cavities due to tooth decay. One of the major reasons why amalgam fillings have been a huge hit in the dental industry is that they last long.

According to a study conducted by a Belgian dentist, amalgam fillings last an average of 12.8 years. This study involved 722 amalgam fillings he had placed between 1982 and 1999. Meanwhile, 659 dentists from Finland also did a similar study. Research showed that the average life of amalgam fillings is 12 years.

Another similar study was conducted in 2012, involving a group of researchers. Their study showed that 80% of amalgam fillings are still intact ten years after they are placed.

How Long Amalgam Fillings Last

Are Mercury Fillings Banned?

Since amalgam fillings were quite popular, many people were shocked when amalgam fillings were banned in some countries. The United States is also considering the ban.

Some states have passed laws requiring dentists to disclose information about the potential risks of mercury exposure from dental amalgam fillings to patients.

The law states that dentists are allowed “to use mercury amalgam only for dental purposes and requires dentists to store, use, handle, and dispose of mercury according to state and federal law and DEEP best management practices. As part of its best management practices, DEEP requires all dental offices using mercury amalgam to provide a copy of a DEEP brochure to patients that explains the advantages and disadvantages to human health and the environment of the use of mercury amalgam fillings and alternative filling materials.”

Are Amalgam Fillings Banned in Europe?

In 2008, the American Dental Association announced that amalgam fillings had been banned in European countries including Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

Similarly, the European Union also released a statement requesting the ban of the same material. According to the statement, a study was conducted on behalf of the EU, and it was found that amalgam fillings should be banned for the next few years.

Even Japan is greatly affected by its shift. Like some European countries, Japan also started implementing an amalgam filling ban. After that, even other countries followed. In 2013, around 140 countries agreed to The Minamata Convention on Mercury, which covered the worldwide mercury ban.

Is a Leaking Filling Dangerous?

A leaking filling can potentially be dangerous, allowing bacteria and food particles to enter the cavity and cause further decay. If left untreated, the decay can spread to the root of the tooth, leading to a painful infection or abscess.

In addition, if the filling material leaks, it may release small amounts of mercury, which can pose a risk to your health. While the amount of mercury released from a filling is generally considered low and not harmful to most people, some individuals may be more sensitive to mercury exposure and experience adverse health effects.

If you suspect a leaking filling, it is important to see your dentist as soon as possible to have it evaluated and repaired if necessary. Your dentist can assess the extent of the damage and recommend the best course of action to prevent further decay and ensure the safety of your dental filling.

Why Are Dental Amalgams Dangerous?

Since amalgam fillings have been used in the dental industry for years and can last more than ten years, why do countries and institutions prohibit their use? For you to understand why, here are the dangers of amalgam fillings.

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The Dangers of Amalgam Fillings and the Alternative

1. Metals expand and contract depending on temperature

While metals are known for their durability and reliability, they also have other properties you may want to consider. One is their ability to expand and contract, depending on temperature. If this happens, your tooth may be affected, too. Once the fillings expand, your tooth’s structure may be forced and weakened. Worse, it may also break.

2. Metals corrode

Metals tend to react with the things that have contact with them. Their chemical compositions are complicated, after all. If you have dental fillings made from metal, corrosion might happen, causing your fillings to leak and give way to bacteria. This can cause not just discomfort but also serious infection.

3. You may feel discomfort with a metal filling

Apart from expanding and contracting, metals also tend to give way to electrical flow. It can be painful, of course. Also, metals can conduct hot and cold temperatures, which can be uncomfortable for you.

4. Amalgam fillings require the removal of a healthy tooth

Amalgam fillings do not reinforce your teeth and require the removal of healthy tooth structure. Amalgam material must meet the minimum criteria of depth and size to work properly. Amalgam removal causes unnecessary loss of healthy tooth structure, and during this process, the patient is exposed to mercury vapor released during the procedure.

5. Amalgam fillings have mercury

Mercury has been known for the dangers it can cause. It is a highly-toxic material, and spills involving mercury have always been frowned upon because of the health risks they cause. In fact, the US alone is largely affected by this material. It was found in a study that there was an increase in the rate of mercury spills, leading to mercury pollution.

Mercury Pollution

Mercury can contaminate the air, and the thing is, it can be really dangerous. Even short-term exposure to this can cause cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and hypertension. Long-term exposure to this can cause tremors, insomnia, irritability, headache and memory loss. It can also cause damage to the nervous system and kidneys.

What more if your dental fillings contain this harmful material? What if your dental filling emits mercury now and then, which, if you inhale, can cause serious health problems? Now that’s a huge problem.

According to studies, mercury vapor is emitted each time a person with amalgam fillings chews food or drinks beverages like coffee. The vapor is sprayed onto the person’s oral cavity, which can easily be absorbed into the bloodstream.

What is even more alarming is the fact that many dentists have already used it. Also, until now, some have believed in the power of amalgams as dental fillings. In fact, even the American Dental Association is still an advocate of these harmful fillings.

mcg mercury

Composite Fillings as an Alternative to Amalgam

Given the dangers of amalgam fillings, it is best to find alternative materials for dental fillings. Among the best choices would be composite fillings.

Unlike amalgam fillings that contain mercury, composite fillings are made of plastic. Often called “white” or “tooth-colored” because of their color, this alternative is safer due to its composition.

It also has other benefits.

1. Composite fillings blend with the surrounding tooth

Unlike amalgam fillings, which are metallic by nature, composite fillings bond with the surrounding tooth chemically. This has something to do with the chemical composition of these composite fillings. Also, because of their color, they blend with the tooth’s color, making them look more natural.

2. They do not require the removal of healthy teeth

As mentioned earlier, amalgam fillings are so massive that they require the removal of a healthy tooth to have ample space. This is something you can avoid if you have composite fillings because composite fillings are lighter compared to amalgam fillings. They also do not occupy much space because they are more compact and versatile. Because of this, you can use composite fillings to repair your tooth that is simply cracked, worn, or chirped.

Are Metal Fillings Still Used Now?

Yes, metal fillings are still used in cosmetic dentistry. While there are concerns about the potential health risks associated with dental amalgam fillings, the American Dental Association (ADA) and other professional organizations suggest they are safe for dental fillings.

Metal fillings, including dental amalgam fillings, are still used because they are strong, durable, and long-lasting. They are also relatively inexpensive and easy to place. However, alternative materials, such as composite resin and porcelain, are now available, and they are safer and more aesthetically pleasing.

The choice of filling material will depend on several factors, including the decay’s location and extent, the cavity’s size, and the patient’s preferences. Your dentist can help you choose the best filling material for your needs and concerns.

Make an Informed Choice for Dental Fillings Today!

If you want dental fillings that prioritize your safety and well-being, look no further than Dental Studio 101 in Scottsdale, Arizona. We understand that as a patient, you deserve to make informed decisions about your dental care. That’s why we emphasize the importance of being picky about the materials used for your fillings.

Just because you’re not a dentist doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care. At Dental Studio 101, we believe you have the right to know about the materials used in your dental fillings and the potential dangers they may pose. Your safety is our top priority, and we strive to protect you from any possible harm.

When you choose our dental fillings, you’re choosing to improve your life and daily living. Don’t take risks that you may regret later. Instead, opt for dental fillings with materials that are safe for your body. Our experienced team of cosmetic dentists will guide you through the process, ensuring you receive the highest standard of care.

About The Author

Dr. Boyle

Dr. Megan Peterson Boyle

Dr. Megan Peterson Boyle completed her Doctorate in Dental Medicine from Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine in Glendale, AZ. As a leader in the field of cosmetic dentistry and full-mouth rehabilitation, she is committed to providing exceptional dental care to the local community. She is also affiliated with prestigious organizations, including the American Dental Association. Her extensive involvement in these reputable institutions speaks to her commitment to advancing the field of dentistry.