October 13, 2023
While heavy metal certainly makes a great musical genre, it has fallen out of favor as a material for dental restorations. For generations, cavities were treated with fillings made from dental amalgam, a blend of tin, zinc, copper, silver, and mercury. By weight, this material is about 50% mercury, an element well-known for its neurologically toxic properties. If any of your old amalgam fillings are due to be replaced soon, here’s why you might want to consider upgrading to tooth-colored fillings.
Why Is Mercury a Big Deal?
The dental amalgam in traditional fillings can release small amounts of mercury vapor over time. This can become more of an issue due to the age of the restoration, the number of fillings in the mouth, and the habits of the patient such as teeth grinding. If an amalgam filling is being placed or removed, patients and dental staff alike have to wear special equipment to protect themselves from mercury vapor. While swallowing bits of amalgam is not known to cause any health issues, inhaling mercury vapor can be dangerous for some patients.
Who Is Mercury More Likely to Affect?
Some people should be especially concerned about mercury exposure. These include women who are pregnant or intending to become pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children. Studies on the link between mercury in amalgam and developmental health have been few and limited, so it has been hard to find any definite connections with negative health effects. However, traditional fillings should be of special concern to people with sensitivities to mercury or other materials found in dental amalgam or those with neurological impairments or kidney dysfunctions.
Why Are Tooth-Colored Fillings the Safer Choice?
Tooth-colored fillings use composite resin, the same mercury-free material used in cosmetic dental bonding. Amalgam fillings leave dark metallic spots in the teeth and require the alteration of healthy tooth structure to be placed securely. Fillings made with composite resin can match the color of real teeth, be shaped to match their natural contours, and form a stronger bond with the enamel, allowing for a higher-quality restoration that preserves more healthy tooth structure.
While amalgam fillings can be expected to last for up to fifteen years while tooth-colored fillings can be expected to last for twelve, both can last much longer with excellent care and maintenance. If you expect to need your amalgam restorations replaced soon, consulting with your dentist can determine if it’s a good idea to make the switch to tooth-colored fillings.
About the Author
Dr. Yana Nemtseva earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery at the New York University College of Dentistry before completing an American Dental Association-accredited hospital-based General Practice Residency Program at Woodhull Medical and Mental Center. She has since completed several continuing education courses on topics such as clear aligners and no-prep veneers. Her office in Morganville, NJ offers general, pediatric, cosmetic, emergency, and restorative dentistry such as tooth-colored fillings. For more information on modern cavity repairs, contact her office online or dial (732) 972-6400.
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