Dr. Josh Berd, San Francisco’s Cosmetic Dentist discusses the facts and fiction surrounding the amalgam filling toxicity debate.
The issue of safety of dental amalgam fillings has been a controversial topic in the news for quite some time. I’d like to shed some light on this heated debate and address common questions and misconceptions.
What is dental amalgam, and why does it contain mercury?
Dental amalgam is a material used to fill cavities in teeth broken down by bacterial decay. Amalgam is an alloy of silver, copper, tin, zinc and mercury. Mercury’s unique properties (it is the only metal that is liquid at room temp) allow it to bind the other metal particles to form a strong and durable solid filling.
Is dental amalgam toxic to the human body?
The California Dental Association states that dental amalgam ‘shows no toxicity and causes no adverse health reactions.’ Amalgam fillings are known to emit mercury vapor, although the amounts fall well within levels considered safe by the FDA.
Is it true that some illnesses or allergies can be caused/ associated with dental amalgam fillings?
The FDA, World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention have all reviewed the best available scientific evidence and determined that dental amalgam fillings are safe. This well-studied area has no connection to the development of any known neurologic or systemic disorders. People with known allergies or sensitivity to metals such silver, copper, tin or mercury should not get amalgam fillings. If you are allergic, dental amalgam might cause oral lesions or other contact reactions.
Can I have old dental amalgams safely removed/replaced?
The FDA does not recommend replacing amalgam fillings strictly for cosmetic reasons. Removing old fillings may result in loss of healthy tooth structure and trauma to the tooth’s pulp. However, dental amalgam can be safely removed by a dentist using a technique that isolates the offending tooth from the oral cavity.
I don’t like the dark color of dental amalgam, what are my other options?
A great alternative is a composite resin filling. This ‘tooth-colored’, body-friendly type of special plastic can be customized to match the shade of your natural tooth. It blends in with surrounding teeth and requires minimal removal of healthy tooth structure. Advancements in dental materials allow dentists to place composite resin fillings that are increasingly more durable and aesthetic.
Know that you have a better understanding of dental amalgam; you have the power to choose. Remember, your choice needs to be based on facts, and also take your cosmetic issues into consideration. It is important to have the right dentist who will explain your options and listen to your concerns.
Sources: FDA, ADA, CDA. Image: AACD