While blogging about our dental practice the other week I made a joke about having dental work done in the last century, as in 1979! Technically, while maybe not a “century” ago, it was in the 20th century and we are now in the 21st so it only makes sense that dental care has changed and improved since the last time you might have had a tooth filled. That’s why today we’re talking about the truth behind silver dental fillings.
Amalgam (which is most commonly silver but can be other colours and materials) is the restorative material used to fill teeth when a cavity occurs. Dental amalgam is typically comprised of mixed metals including mercury; mixed with an alloy commonly containing silver, tin and copper. The result is a silver coloured amalgam, most often used to fill posterior positioned teeth. There are many misconceptions about whether this silver material and mercury in particular, is dangerous for your health. Here’s what the Canadian Dental Association has to say: (1)
- Have recent studies proven that dental amalgam releases mercury vapour and that it should not be used? Scientific studies have not verified that dental amalgam is causing illness in the general population. It has been known for some time that amalgam fillings release minute amounts of mercury vapour, especially with chewing, and that this mercury can be absorbed, reach body organs, and cross the placenta. This is also true of mercury absorbed from natural sources, such as food.
- What amount of mercury does a person take into the body from natural sources and how much comes from amalgam fillings? The amount depends on a number of factors, such as the type of food you eat, your occupational exposure, environmental levels and the number of amalgam fillings you have. Health Canada estimates that for the average Canadian adult 20 to 59 years old the amount of mercury absorbed by the body from all sources is about nine millionths of a gram per day. Of this total dental amalgam is estimated to contribute about three millionths of a gram per day.
- Is the mercury, which is absorbed into the body harmful? For the overwhelming majority of people no harmful effects are known to be caused by the average levels of mercury exposure from amalgam fillings.”
The best thing to do if you have concerns about amalgam is to discuss available options with your dental care provider. The Brinkley Team is happy to talk with patients about what might be best for your individual situation. For example, some pregnant mothers might opt to delay dental treatment (if possible) or use materials other than silver amalgam if they have concerns. If that’s right for you, your Dentist will work together in consultation to determine best alternatives. The same would apply to any concerns you might have about children having a cavity filled.
Other materials for filling cavities are available, the most common one (other than silver amalgam) being composite resin (sometimes called plastic or white), followed by gold, ceramic and glass ionomer. Each material has its pros and cons and some might better meet your needs than others. For example, factors to consider include the size of your cavity and its location. As the CDA further points out “if your cavity is in a molar, for example, the filling will receive a lot of biting force or stress, so a strong material is needed. If it is in the front of your mouth where there is less biting force and people will see it, a different material may be better.” Talk to your Dentist, or the team here at Brinkley about what’s best for you. We’re happy to help. In the meantime, remember: “don’t forget to be a BFF with your mouth and Brush that SMILE!”