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Dentists have been using dental amalgam, or "silver fillings" for more than 150 years with no known adverse effects. In recent years; however, consumers have started questioning the safety of dental amalgam as it consists of a 50/50 mix of mercury and an alloy powder, which is typically silver, zinc, or palladium. The presence of mercury is not the only reason to consider replacing metal fillings with porcelain. Let's take a closer look at fillings and the benefits of porcelain compared to amalgam.

How Often Should Fillings be Replaced?

There are many factors that affect each filling differently and deciding how often each filling needs to be replaced is certainly something to consult about with your dentist. When it comes to amalgam fillings, the metals used in the filling deteriorate over time. This also causes the metal to expand and contract, which can cause fractures in your tooth. If not replace metal fillings early, you risk allowing food and debris to find its way below the filling, potentially causing even further damage to your tooth.  If your dentist detects that there is a problem below the surface, such as a cavity under the filling, they will likely suggest replacing it with porcelain as soon as possible. Proactive dentists will help you prevent experiencing much of the pain that can be caused by old, worn out amalgam fillings.

How Long Do Amalgam Fillings Last?

Some of the benefits of amalgam fillings are that they are very durable and can handle the wear and tear you are certain to put them through. Amalgam fillings will typically last you from 10 to 15 years unless you end up with a cavity beneath it, or the tooth cracks and can no longer support the filling. Some amalgam fillings will not last as long, depending on how it was put in, the types of metals used or even how much you tend to grind your teeth- all these things affect the lifespan of your fillings. Sometimes patients become dissatisfied with the aesthetic that "silver fillings" bring to their smile while others are worried about the health risks and side effects of metal in the fillings. Whether the filling is worn out or you simply want to bring a better look to your smile, determining if an existing filling has "run its course" should always be something to discuss with your dentist.

Metal Fillings: Health Risks and Side Effects

While there are sometimes side effects with all types of fillings, including sensitivity or pain shortly after getting a new filling, metal fillings have additional risks and potential side effects to consider.  As we discovered earlier, silver amalgam fillings wear down and expand and contract over time causing damage to the supporting tooth. There are also the concerns about mercury releasing toxic fumes into your body, although no conclusive proof has been found in a variety of studies. One survey conducted by the US National Health and Nutrition Examination in 2001 did find that amalgam "fillings correlated to the incidence of cancer, mental conditions, neurological issues (including MS), diseases of the respiratory system and diseases of the eye." Even with this information, the United States, and the FDA have determined that "the correlations do not sufficiently demonstrate causation."

Why Porcelain is Better and Safer

Porcelain fillings are a much better and maybe safer alternative to amalgam fillings. Maybe the biggest attraction to porcelain fillings is that they can be color matched to your teeth, making them practically unnoticeable. Porcelain fillings are the most common fillings used by dentists today. They consist of a methacrylate matrix filled with tiny particles of porcelain. This mix is applied to your tooth in a cream like state, allowing them to be sculpted into the proper shape for your needs. Once the dentist has formed the filling, he will cure it with a high intensity light. Porcelain fillings will not leak mercury, or other toxic chemicals into your body and they will also last an extremely long time. Because porcelain does not expand and contract like metals, porcelain fillings are less likely to cause cracking or breaking from pressure variations.

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