In a recent episode of “The Perfect Smile” on our YouTube channel, we discussed the controversy surrounding amalgam dental fillings and why we use mercury-free fillings at Winters Dental Excellence in Tulsa.
Because dental fillings are a common procedure, and because an increasing number of people with older amalgam fillings are concerned about possible health risks and seek to have them replaced, it’s a topic worth exploring in greater detail. Especially amid global efforts to restrict the use of mercury-based fillings.
What are Amalgam Dental Fillings?
Dental amalgam is a blend of metals used to fill cavities. Some amalgam fillings contain upward of 50 percent mercury, in addition to other metals that may include silver, tin, copper, zinc, indium and palladium.
Mercury helps keep the amalgam material pliable as it is placed in the tooth. When mixed with an alloy powder, mercury contributes to a compound that is soft enough to mix and press into a tooth; however, mercury also hardens quickly, allowing amalgam fillings to withstand the forces of biting and chewing.
Although forms of amalgam have been used in dental work for centuries, and mercury-based amalgam fillings have been around for at least 150 years, there has been mounting concern worldwide in recent years about the potential toxic effects from mercury in dental fillings.
The Mercurial Effects of Mercury
We’re all exposed to trace amounts of mercury through our air, water, soil and food. A useful element to be sure, mercury is also a neurotoxin that can result in life-threatening adverse effects.
Depending on the form and amount of mercury, and other individual factors, the Environmental Protection Agency states that mercury exposure can cause:
- Loss of peripheral vision
- Loss of coordination
- Muscle weakness or twitching
- Changes in nerve responses
- Behavioral changes
Excessive levels of exposure can lead to kidney failure, respiratory failure and even death. The risks of complications spike when a child is exposed to mercury, and can include long-term cognitive disabilities. Despite this, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Dental Association (ADA) support the use of amalgam fillings for those 6 and older.
Slow to Act on Mercury
Three countries have banned the use of mercury-based amalgam fillings after studies linked mercury levels in fetal tissue to mothers’ mercury fillings, and many leading health organizations have recommended that amalgam fillings not be used in children. Dozens of other studies have demonstrated the hazards of mercury poisoning. And notwithstanding the official stance on amalgam fillings from the FDA and ADA, dentists who administer or remove amalgam fillings must adhere to strict guidelines regarding the handling and disposal of mercury fillings as hazardous waste.
So why isn’t the use of amalgam fillings restricted in the United States? The FDA states that there is not sufficient evidence to support that the amount of mercury vapor released by amalgam fillings poses a health threat. Some studies, for example, have been based on low sample sizes while others have been constrained to a demographic group. However, the US is now a signatory of the Minamata Convention, an international agreement that calls for the reduction of global mercury usage, including the phasing out of metal amalgam fillings. The treaty hasn’t yet had enough ratifications to go into effect, but we may soon see greater moves toward eliminating these fillings.
If nothing else, the existing research indicates this is an issue deserving of deeper examination and that we should err on the side of our health when considering fillings. Besides, there are durable, beautiful, metal-free alternatives.
Natural-Looking Dental Fillings
For a moment, never mind the potential health risks of amalgam fillings. They’re also just plain unattractive.
These traditional dental fillings may restore some bite functionality, but their dark coloration also means they’re highly visible. At Winters Dental Excellence, we offer tooth-colored fillings made with natural-looking composite resins. For even greater strength and beauty, we also offer ceramic inlays and onlays, fillings that can strengthen your teeth.
These state-of-the-art fillings allow you to keep more of your tooth than amalgam fillings, and they help support the tooth structure. Many patients choose to replace amalgam fillings with resin fillings simply because they blend seamlessly with their smiles.
Tulsa dentist Dr. Kevin Winters is dedicated to mercury-free dentistry, and he has helped many patients restore beauty and bite performance with composite resin fillings. To learn more or schedule your appointment, please call Winters Dental Excellence at (918) 528-3330.