When your dentist finds tooth decay, to prevent pain and further decay, you need to have the decay removed. Removing the decay leaves a void in your tooth that must be filled. There are several filling options available; one of the more common but also more controversial options is an amalgam filling.
An amalgam filling is an alloy made from mercury and other metals, such as copper, silver and tin. Your dentist prepares an amalgam filling by mixing liquid mercury with a powder containing the other metal components. Millions of dental patients in the United Kingdom receive amalgam fillings every year.
There are several advantages to amalgam fillings. Amalgam fillings are relatively inexpensive when compared to other filling options. The dental work can be completed in just one visit. The fillings are very strong, which is especially important for back teeth that must withstand extreme bite forces. These advantages are why amalgam fillings are among the most popular options.
Amalgam fillings also have several disadvantages. Following placement, amalgam fillings can cause extreme hot and cold sensitivity. This should subside in a few weeks; if it doesn’t, you need to return to your dentist. In rare cases, some patients may develop an allergy to the mercury or one of the other metals in the amalgam compound. If you notice an itchy skin rash following placement, you may need to have the filling replaced with a different material. Pregnant women should not get amalgam fillings, as mercury passes through the placenta barrier and can harm the fetus. The most common complaint about amalgam fillings is the unattractive appearance. The silver color may make you feel less confident about your smile and may show in the back teeth when you laugh.
The controversy surrounding amalgams has to do with the mercury content. When chewing, the amalgam releases small amounts of mercury vapor that you then inhale. Health agencies say that the mercury content is too low to harm you. People opposed to amalgams, however, believe that the potential side effects have not been studied thoroughly enough. Amalgams have been in use for over a hundred years; and, most studies suggest that the only real danger is to your dentist, who handles the liquid mercury on a regular basis.
If you are concerned about the possible disadvantages associated with amalgam fillings, talk to your dentist about it. Given all of the information about risks, costs and aesthetics you can make the best decision for your long-term health and comfort.