Reaching a Decision About Your Amalgam Filling

Dentists have used amalgam fillings, also known as silver fillings, to treat cavities for over 150 years. The fillings are inexpensive and durable, with the potential to last between 10 and 15 years with good oral hygiene. This quality has enabled them to remain an accessible treatment option for many people over the years. Recently, however, amalgam fillings have come under scrutiny because they contain mercury.  Because of this many people are concerned that they could be harmful.

This has left many people wondering if they should replace their amalgam fillings. We certainly understand the concern. After all, just because a treatment has been used for a long time doesn’t mean it’s completely safe! There’s a lot of conflicting and inaccurate information out there, so we’ve gathered the real facts to help you make a decision about your amalgam fillings.

Amalgam fillings owe their durability to mercury.

About half of the weight of your amalgam filling is made up of elemental mercury. The other half is made up of a mixture of powdered tin, copper, and silver. Unlike other metals, mercury is a liquid at room temperature.  This allows it to bind the other metals together without requiring your dentist to melt them down. The result is a malleable putty that can fit the shape of the hole in your tooth perfectly while also drying and hardening into a solid filling very quickly.

Amalgam fillings don’t pose a risk to your health.

The amalgam fillings do release a small amount of mercury vapor that you’ll inhale. While mercury can certainly be dangerous when it’s present in higher concentrations, an amalgam filling results in very low levels of mercury in your body. Many studies have been carried out to determine whether or not amalgam fillings are safe. No evidence has ever been found that they have negative effects on your health. As a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, and World Health Organization all consider amalgam fillings to be completely safe.

It is important to note, however, that there isn’t much research on the effect of the mercury from this type of filling on unborn infants and children under the age of six years old. Although the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the amount of mercury that ends up in breast milk is well within the safe range, there also isn’t much data on the impact, if any, amalgam fillings can have on breastfeeding babies whose mothers have the fillings.

Generally, however, the biggest risk from amalgam fillings is that you may have a sensitivity or allergy to one of the metals in the mixture. This can cause lesions or other symptoms of an allergic reaction to form in your mouth. As a result, it’s wise to double-check this before you get your first amalgam filling. Apart from a potential allergy, there’s no evidence that amalgam fillings will cause any negative effects to your health, so you don’t have to worry about replacing your filling right away if you don’t want to.

They can pose risks to your teeth.

Although they don’t pose any risks to your overall health, amalgam fillings are no longer the best option for your teeth. Modern dentistry now offers other options. Your natural teeth may seem hard, but they actually need to flex a little as you chew. This means your filling should, too. Amalgam fillings are hard and inflexible, however, so they can’t move and flex the way your teeth do. The metal, while durable, is also prone to expanding and contracting in response to temperatures—just like other metals.

These two issues can cause your filling to fail over time, allowing bacteria to slip under small cracks in the filling.  The bacteria can cause deep cavities that may require root canals, regardless of how well you brush and floss your teeth. You might not even noticed anything is wrong. The fillings’ inflexibility and tendency to expand and contract can also cause direct harm to your tooth by causing it to chip, crack, or even break. Damage like this can be incredibly painful and can easily result in an emergency trip to the dentist to receive a dental crown.

Amalgam fillings can stain your gums.

If your dentist slips during the filling process, spilling a little of the amalgam onto your gums or the soft tissues of your mouth, it can result in a permanent, gray-tinged stain that’s often called an “amalgam tattoo.” These stains are harmless, but it’s impossible to get rid of them unless you have the stained layer of skin removed. These stains are often difficult for other people to notice, especially since amalgam fillings are generally placed on the back teeth. You might want to take this into account, though, if you’re thinking about getting an amalgam filling.

The decision to replace or keep your amalgam filling is up to you.

Thankfully, amalgam fillings are safe. They aren’t doing any hidden damage to your body, so you don’t have to feel like you’re required to replace your filling to protect your overall health. Additionally, Dr. Benny, Dr. Trey, or Dr. Burton can help protect your teeth by monitoring your amalgam filling closely for signs of failure. If you visit our office for regular preventive appointments, we’ll be more likely to spot the signs of a failing filling early.  Catching the problem early on can mean the difference between a root canal and a simple filling replacement.

If you’re still bothered by the idea of mercury in your amalgam filling or are worried the metal may damage your tooth, it’s okay to go ahead and replace it! Just keep in mind that doing so will require you to remove a little bit of healthy tooth structure, leaving you with a slightly bigger filling than before. For some people, the peace of mind and improved appearance other filling options provide is simply worth it. At the end of the day, the decision is yours, so choose the solution that makes you feel comfortable.

Amalgam fillings aren’t perfect. They could damage your tooth and stand out in your mouth, but they’re a safe, inexpensive, and durable filling. For many people, they are a solid treatment option. However, we want you to feel confident that your dental restorations are protecting your oral and overall health. If you have any questions about amalgam fillings, how they compare to other types of fillings, or the replacement process, feel free to call our office and schedule a consultation with your dentist at any time.