Amalgam fillings have long been used as the popular choice for addressing cavities. Most people of years gone by have chosen to use those instead of the white composite even though it was available. Apprehension regarding the hazardous nature of some of the components of amalgam has been mounting, thus calling into question how safe it really is for use in filling dental cavities.
Amalgam consists of a combination of silver, tin and copper powders which constitute half the mixture. The other half comes from liquid mercury which is used as the binding agent for the compound. The mercury is what makes the compound so malleable and contributes to its quick drying nature.
Reasons for Concern About Amalgam Fillings
- The top reason for the deep concern over amalgam fillings is that they contain mercury. Mercury is a very hazardous compound for which there has always been a caution when handling. It seems quite strange then that mercury would be included in a compound which has to come into such close contact with our bodies, inside the mouth at that.
- Research has shown that over time mercury in fillings is released as vapour and the release rate increases with consuming acidic foods or even just grinding the teeth. On its own therefore, even without chemical or mechanical interactions, these mercury containing fillings are a health hazard. Over time if great enough amounts of mercury vapour are inhaled, permanent brain or kidney damage may result.
- It has also been found out that with the passage of time, these metal fillings expand and do not bond to teeth as well as they did when initially placed. This creates spaces between the tooth and cavity and causes food and liquid to get into the space, resulting in decay. This is where amalgam fillings fail to fully carry out their intended purpose. This may eventually cause the loss of a tooth or teeth due to decay beyond repair or result in a root canal or other procedure becoming necessary.
- The amalgam mixture does not come premixed so dentists and their assistants are exposed to the harmful compound in its elemental state during the procedure. Although protected by gloves they are exposed to the vapours. Some of the mercury may also get washed down the drain and enter our water supply as cleanup takes place.
- Another concern has to do with the bioaccumulation of mercury. As the vapours are released, they build up in some tissues and organs of the body in a cumulative way and results in damage to these structures. Mercury may also get into the system from foods we eat such as seafood, so the combined effect of mercury from both sources increases the risk of bioaccumulation.
- In pregnancy, there is concern that mercury can cross the placenta to the unborn child. While there is yet no documented evidence of the actual effects on a foetus, the known dangerous nature of mercury raises a concern for pregnant mothers regarding their amalgam fillings. Dentists generally advise pregnant women to avoid or delay dental procedures which are not urgent until after delivery as a precautionary measure.
- Similar cautions are encouraged during lactation as it is not definitively known how mercury vapours passing to the mother’s milk from amalgam fillings may affect an infant or young child.
What Complications Does Mercury in Amalgam Fillings Cause?
Rare allergic reactions which manifest as swelling or lesions in the mouth have resulted from amalgam fillings. These reactions are not necessarily due to mercury alone because some patients may be allergic to the tin, copper and / or silver in the composite. Other symptoms of an allergic reaction may include wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightening, hive breakouts, itchy watery eyes and sneezing. These symptoms require the immediate attention of your dentist who will need to recommend a safer alternative filling procedure.
Where Does The FDA Stand on Amalgam Fillings?
The Food and Drug Administration has ruled that based on the low levels of mercury vapour which comes from amalgam fillings, it is still deemed as safe for use in patients 6 years old and older. They have however agreed that the potential for causing health complications does exist and so patients must weigh the consequences in deciding on their own dental care when it comes to treating cavities.
Make Your Own Conclusion
Based on the foregoing concerns it is prudent to make a personal evaluation of whether amalgam based fillings are right for you. The potential and cumulative health risks have caused many to stay away from and even remove their amalgam fillings to rule out these possible risks in the future. Removing amalgam fillings also comes with a long list of precautionary measures to assure safety, which raises further concern as to whether the hazardous nature of this mercury containing compound is being downplayed. In the final analysis, a preventive approach may be the better option.