What is dental amalgam? That is a question that we get asked at least once per week. When most people ask that question, they are referring to either dental amalgam (metal fillings) or composite resins (tooth-colored fillings).
Just like almost every other technology, dental filling materials have changed and improved over the years. This means that what we use today is very different from the materials that we used just a few years ago.
The material that most people associate with fillings is a dental amalgam. It is reported that amalgam was used as early as the Tang Dynasty in 659 AD. Dental amalgam has also shown up in medical texts from Germany in the 1500s. It first made its appearance in the United States in the mid-1800s. While it has changed slightly over the years, it has remained very much the same as when first introduced into this country.
Amalgam is a mixture of around 50 percent mercury and 50 percent several other metals, including copper, tin, and zinc. The benefits of using amalgam as a filling material are that it is easy to place and it is cheap. The ease of use and relatively low expense lead to amalgam quickly becoming the most prevalent material used for dental fillings, a popularity that has continued until just recently.
The Truth about Mercury
Many groups have fought against the use of amalgam, but only in the past 15 years has there been significant research to show the potential toxic effects of mercury on the human body. The CDC has declared mercury to be one of the most toxic substances known to humans and recommends the use of caution when handling mercury.
Questions about mercury have caused many to wonder whether dental amalgam, which is 50 percent mercury, is safe for use as a restorative material. However, once it is set in the compound as dental amalgam, the mercury is no longer toxic and therefore safe. This is supported by the American Dental Association. There is other research, however, that is not so sure about the safety of amalgam. In fact, there are several countries that have banned its use in humans. There are even several states in the U.S. that require dentists who place new amalgam fillings to have the patient sign a consent form outlining the potential risk associated with having mercury inserted into their teeth. Many states are forcing dentists to use precautions to store dental amalgam materials and also to follow certain procedures for the handling of amalgam waste.
The other negative aspect of amalgam is that teeth that have amalgam fillings tend to develop cracks over the years due to the expansion of the amalgam over time and the weakening of the tooth caused by the preparation of the hole in which the amalgam is placed.
While it has been widely used for many years, there appear to be better materials available today that address many of the shortcomings of dental amalgam. That’s why at The Dental Care Centers, we have chosen to use other materials. We feel we are not only providing a better quality of filling for our patients but safeguarding the health of our patients and our team. At your next appointment, ask us about composite fillings.
Written by: Michael Watson, DDS