For decades, the debate has raged over whether amalgam fillings are safe or not. As I researched many publications, each voicing a variety of opinions on this issue, it became very clear that the issue is not resolved on either side and very likely won’t be. My goal in presenting you this information is to educate you on them both.
One can never be too informed about what’s happening in any aspect of their treatment.
Amalgam “Silver” Fillings
Amalgam fillings have been used since the 1800s. Needless to say, the entire process of filling teeth has improved over the past decades including the ingredients used and the techniques dentist are trained in.
Traditionally, amalgam fillings have been made out of a mixture of elemental mercury (which comprises the bulk of the mixture), silver, tin, and copper. Some dentists may add other metals as well. Together, these metals form a very strong, durable bond. Mixed properly and adequately these other metals stabilize and keep the mercury “in check.” I will come back to this argument.
Because of the bond between these metals, amalgam fillings are perfect for restoring molars, where there are strong bite forces. The stronger the bite and the presence of any parafunctional habits (see: Damaging Dental Habits) usually mean that amalgam fillings will be the better choice.
Other advantages include:
- The combination of the metals in amalgam fillings are known to resist bacteria
- Amalgam fillings are easier to place and work with to adequately fill the space
- Less expensive than composite fillings
- Historically last longer than composite fillings
The disadvantages to amalgam fillings include:
- Short-term sensitivity to hot or cold (usually just after the filling is placed)
- They are very visible when laughing, smiling, or talking
- More drilling may be required
Composite fillings have seen increasing use since they were first introduced in the 1970s. Composite materials, from which inlays and other dental restorations are made, are usually a mixture of glass or quartz filler in a resin form.