It seems logical that you wouldn’t want to put a toxic metal into your mouth, right? Well, for over 150 years, dentists everywhere have been doing precisely that. Dental amalgam, or “silver fillings” are made up of 50% mercury and a 50% combination of other metals such as silver, tin, and copper. Small amounts of zinc, indium, or palladium also may be used. For years, experts have debated, and studies have seemingly contradicted each other regarding the use of this material. So what’s the truth about dental amalgam, is it actually safe? Read on to find out.
Dental amalgam is used to fill a hole in the tooth where a cavity has been drilled out. It is a putty-like substance of liquid mercury combined with a variety of other metals. This filing is incredibly inexpensive and long-lasting, which is why dentists have continued using it despite certain concerns from public groups. There are alternative teeth-colored fillings that aren’t necessarily as tough as the metal. These fillings have risen in popularity; however, amalgam doesn’t seem to be going out of fashion any time soon.
The ruling on amalgam fillings
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “Dental amalgam contains elemental mercury, [which] releases low levels of mercury in the form of a vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed by the lungs. High levels of mercury vapor exposure are associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidneys.”
Through many years of debate and numerous reclassifications, the FDA has now decided that the low level of mercury vapor released by amalgam fillings is not enough to cause harm or injury. The FDA concluded that amalgam fillings are safe for adults and children ages six and above. However, the FDA now classifies the encapsulated amalgams as Class II devices which are considered moderate risk, versus the previous low-risk Class I identification. This classification gives the FDA more control over distribution and other safety considerations to minimize the health risk.
What’s the problem?
If the FDA says it’s safe, it must be safe. Many people hold to this assumption and agree to an amalgam filling without fully understanding the serious downsides. The issue comes down to the mercury content in these fillings.
Mercury is a naturally occurring substance that exists in the environment. Though you may not realize it, you are probably exposed to trace amounts of mercury every day in the air, drinking water, soil, and food. These levels are far too minimal to cause any damage; however, it is vital to realize mercury from all sources can build up in your organs. Even a minimal amount can stick around for years in your body.
High levels of mercury exposure can cause health issues such as anxiety, irritability, memory loss, headaches, fatigue, tremors, insomnia, nerve damage, kidney problems, and respiratory failure. Though previous tests indicated that mercury in fillings was inert, more recent research has discovered something entirely different. As the amalgam filling wears and begins to break down, mercury vapor is released into the body in minimal amounts. Mercury vapor is then absorbed into the bloodstream in the lungs and taken to the kidneys to be passed out in the urine.
This amount was deemed “safe” by the FDA, but other studies have found that even the low-level mercury vapor released by dental fillings can lead to long-term brain damage. Since the results are so contradictory and so many studies fail to provide a conclusive link, it is hard to say with certainty that mercury is the sole cause of any health issue.
Ultimately, it is up to you and your dentist to decide if the risk is worth it. Remember, there are alternative options so it can’t hurt to seek out a holistic dentist before filling your mouth with potentially harmful metal.
What if you already have amalgam fillings?
Experts disagree on whether or not you should have your fillings removed, but there is some evidence to suggest that doing so could actually release more mercury vapor into your body in the long run. If there is a need for removal, such as the development of a secondary cavity or the filling breaking down, then you may have no other choice. Have a conversation with your dentist about your fillings and don’t be afraid to express your concerns regarding mercury.