Although they are commonly referred to as “silver” fillings, the actual material is dental amalgam. It is one of the more primary materials used when dentists fill cavities. This has also been the basis of controversy as numerous issues have arisen regarding its use in dentistry. Although amalgam is a combination of copper, mercury, silver, and tin, it is the mercury that biologists, environmentalists, healthcare officials, and scientists are so concerned about.
How safe are Amalgam Fillings?There are literally millions of individuals that have fillings made from amalgam and dozens of research studies that have been conducted regarding its use. This research was evaluated by the USFDA (Food and Drug Administration) in 2009, results of which declared it to be safe for anyone aged 6 or older. Consequently, the use of amalgam in dentistry has not been limited. However, the persistence of certain concerned groups in the FDA once again evaluating the use of amalgam.
What were the Reasons for using Mercury in Amalgam?Mercury was originally chosen as one of the ingredients in amalgam to increase the pliability of the filling material. When mixed with an alloy powder, it makes the resulting compound softer and easier to fill the cavity. Additionally, the use of mercury speeds up the hardening process which makes it easier to start biting and chewing again. It also makes it easier for the tooth to withstand the force of those functions.
The ControversyMercury naturally occurs in our environment. It can exist as a liquid, which is used in thermometers, but if mercury is heated it becomes gaseous. It has also been used in combination with a number of other materials. The concerns about mercury arose out of people’s exposure to it. Exposure typically results from the air we breathe, the food we eat, the soil, and the water we drink. A number of concerns have been raised over the past few decades.
The controversy over the use of mercury in amalgam focuses on the amount of mercury that is released by a filling and how much is absorbed by the body. For instance, there are ongoing concerns regarding the build-up of mercury in fish because of pollution. In addition to this, mercury is discharged into the air we breathe by certain industries that burn fuels containing mercury. Regardless of the sources, ongoing exposure causes mercury to accumulate within the body’s organs.
Consequently, the greater the amount of mercury in the body, the greater the degree of harm that can be done. For example, at lower levels of exposure, there are few if any adverse effects. However, at higher levels of exposure, mercury can result in anxiety attacks, fatigue, headaches, irritability, and memory loss. Regardless of the above, one thing is certain. There is less exposure to mercury in fillings than what we’re exposed to in the environment and certain foods that we eat.