When it comes to restorative dental treatments, the main goal is to restore the health, structure and function of the tooth as thoroughly as possible. Since dental restoration is used for a variety of reasons–from small decay or damage issues to more thorough decay or damage issues–the type of restorative treatment is largely based upon the condition of the tooth and the amount of repair needed.
Dental fillings are a common restorative dental treatment that can be successfully used to resolve the issues caused by small to medium-sized cavities. When well cared for, dental fillings can work wonderfully and last for many years, but unfortunately their lifespan is not infinite. There are different types of dental fillings that are used for different purposes–for example, composite fillings are often used where their ability to successfully blend with the natural color of the tooth can help with appearances, whereas gold fillings are often used where durability and longevity are the primary concerns. Amalgam fillings, also known as silver fillings, are considered one of the more popular types of dental fillings because they are easy to place in the mouth, they are more durable than composite fillings, and they are less expensive than gold fillings.
The Basics of Silver Fillings
Amalgam fillings are more often referred to as silver fillings because of their content and color. They are actually a combination of several different metals such as silver, tin, copper, zinc, indium, palladium and mercury. They have been used in dental restoration for roughly one hundred fifty years, and are often considered the most popular type of dental filling because they are so durable. That said, there has been an increasing shift toward the use of composite fillings since they blend in so well with natural tooth color and do not include the use of mercury. However, composite fillings are not as durable as silver fillings, especially when placed on molars that are used for chewing, and studies have indicated that silver fillings are absolutely safe for a large portion of the population.
In 2009 the United States Food and Drug Administration reviewed various research studies that had been conducted on the safety of silver fillings, with specific attention on the mercury content. As a result of this thorough review, the FDA determined that silver fillings are safe for adults and children who are over the age of six. While some may argue that this cannot possibly be true, it’s important to take a moment and consider why mercury is used in silver fillings, how much is actually present, and whether it can escape into the individual’s system.
The metal substance known as mercury occurs naturally in the environment around us. The way that this metal can be harmful is the same way that any other substance can be harmful–when it is absorbed or consumed in excess. Excessive mercury exposure or consumption can potentially lead to anxiety, irritability, memory loss, headaches and fatigue. However, the amount of mercury that is used in silver fillings is quite small, and it helps to make the material soft and pliable for shaping, and hard and durable for use on teeth that are exposed to great biting and chewing forces.
While it was once believed that silver fillings released absolutely no mercury once they had been placed in the mouth and cured, testing has revealed that mercury vapors are released as the silver filling wears. That said, these tests have also indicated that the amount of mercury that is released is very small–less even than the amount of mercury that individuals are routinely exposed to in their environment or through their foods.
There are instances where some individuals are sensitive to the mercury that is contained in silver fillings, and so should receive composite, porcelain or gold fillings instead. If you have any questions or concerns about silver fillings, or fillings in general, it is important to discuss them thoroughly with your dentist, Dr. Best, so that you can make the choice that is most suited to your needs. You may find that silver fillings are the best option for you, and will provide the desired, durable tooth restoration for the longest period of time possible.