The safety of silver amalgam fillings has been a hot topic in recent years, with consumers launching a lawsuit against the American Food and Drug Administration in 2014 for failing to restrict or ban the use of mercury-containing dental amalgam in vulnerable populations. Meanwhile, the American Dental Association still claims that dental amalgam fillings are "durable, safe, and effective."

If you are thinking of getting silver amalgam fillings or having your silver fillings replaced with porcelain fillings, it's important to understand the issues surrounding exposure to mercury, who is most at risk, and the options that are available to you.

Why Silver Fillings Are So Common

Silver dental fillings have been used for over 100 years as a treatment for tooth decay. These fillings use elemental mercury (liquid mercury) mixed with powdered silver, copper, tin, and zinc to fill cavities and protect the remaining healthy tooth structure.

Compared to other filling materials like ceramic and gold, amalgam fillings are inexpensive and long-lasting—10-15 years in most cases and sometimes even longer. While we generally recommend long-lasting, non-toxic fillings made from materials like porcelain, metal fillings are still popular due to their cost-effectiveness.

Concerns Surrounding Mercury Fillings

While dental amalgam fillings remain common—tens of thousands are placed each year—many patients are concerned about the effects of mercury on health. Mercury is a known neurotoxin, can cause kidney damage, and may be especially dangerous for unborn babies and young children

The FDA, ADA, and the World Health Organization state that there is no scientific evidence that proves mercury fillings are dangerous. However, many children and adults who have experienced health problems attribute these problems to their mercury fillings.

When Is Mercury Vapor Released?

Most of the time, amalgam fillings are stable and don't release mercury vapors. However, when they are placed or removed and when a patient chews, drinks hot or acidic beverages, or grinds their teeth, a small amount of mercury vapor is released from where it can be inhaled into the lungs. 

A study on the safety of dental amalgam measured inhaled mercury vapor and blood and urine concentration and found that the level of mercury exposure of symptomatic patients was the same as that of patients with no symptoms. However, another study found that removing mercury fillings improved subjective health complaints compared to leaving mercury fillings in.

Removing Fillings: Benefits and Risks

Replacing your existing amalgam fillings with non-toxic dental fillings such as porcelain inlays and onlays may be a good idea if:

  • You suspect your amalgam fillings are adversely affecting your health.

  • Anxiety about your amalgam fillings is adversely affecting your health.

  • Your amalgam fillings are compromised and need to be replaced.

If any of these situations apply to you, it's important to discuss the options with your dentist to make sure that the replacement filling material is appropriate for the cavity and to find out whether the filling will be covered by your dental insurance.

Dental Amalgam: Seek Professional Advice

The best way to avoid silver fillings is to practice good oral hygiene and visit your dentist regularly (thus preventing tooth decay). However, if you already have cavities or your existing amalgam fillings are affecting your mental or physical health, it's important to discuss the options with your dentist. Our knowledgeable team in Beverly Hills is happy to assist anyone seeking the best solution. 

Tooth decay is serious and something that shouldn't be left untreated. However, informing yourself before going ahead is the best way to ensure full peace of mind.

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