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Can Amalgam Fillings Harm My Health?

dentist examine patient's teeth

By: Alison Aldridge

Amalgam fillings have been a popular choice for repairing decayed teeth for decades, but over the past few years they have come in for a lot of criticism due to the fact that the amalgam contains a low amount of liquid mercury. The concern is that a small amount of mercury vapor may be released during chewing, and also when the amalgam filling is placed or removed. There have been a lot of studies into the levels involved, and the general consensus seems to be that they are insignificant.

FDA Says Amalgam Fillings are Safe
A few years ago the FDA said amalgam fillings were not harmful to health, but in spite of that they are classified as being a Class II device making them a medium risk, compared to a Class I device which is considered to be a low risk. According to the FDA there are no causal links between adverse health effects and amalgam fillings. It came to this conclusion after studying numerous clinical studies conducted on both adults and children over the age of six. In spite of its conclusions the FDA doesn\’t advise the use of amalgam fillings in children under the age of six, or for pregnant women. At the moment the American Dental Association hasn\’t issued any restrictions over the use of amalgam fillings.

In spite of reassurances that amalgam is safe for fillings, it\’s becoming a far less popular choice. Some dentists don\’t offer them to patients anymore, and many people when replacing amalgam fillings are choosing alternative materials. One of the advantages of amalgam is that it is a very hard wearing substance which is why it was so widely used before for filling back teeth that are subject to quite substantial biting forces.

However one of the disadvantages of having an amalgam filling is that the dentist needs to remove more tooth structure in order to place the filling. Another disadvantage is that this material expands when coming into contact with hot foods and drink, and contracts when it comes into contact with cold foods and drinks. Over the course of time this expansion and contraction may cause fractures to develop in the tooth. Of course another huge disadvantage of amalgam fillings is their appearance, as they can create dark areas in the mouth and don\’t look very appealing. In contrast today\’s modern materials are far more hard wearing than in the past, and blend in with the natural tooth very naturally.

It may not be worth having amalgam fillings removed just for the sake of it, but all fillings do eventually need replacing as they will begin to crumble and leak, allowing bacteria to enter the tooth. At this stage it could be worthwhile looking at the alternatives to amalgam and discussing them with your dentist. There are a lot of different types of fillings to choose from, and your exact choice may depend on the location of the tooth to be filled and how much you want to spend on restoring your teeth.

For more information on amalgam fillings, contact Dr. Marissa Miller, Dentist at Discovery Dental in Shelby, OH.