What is Dental Amalgam? Here are the Basics

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One of the most common materials used to fill cavities is dental amalgam. They are also known as silver fillings. Over the years, there have been a lot of concerns raised about amalgam use. Primarily, the concerns stem from the fact that amalgam contains mercury.

Taking into account the above mentioned concerns, you’re probably wondering if you should consider amalgam removal. In most cases, amalgam fillings are only removed when they are broken or worn or when decay occurs beneath the filling. If you are concerned about mercury and would like to resort to amalgam removal, consider it best to discuss your options with your dentist.

If you are one of the many who knows very little about dental amalgam, this article will provide you with all the fundamental information you need:

Amalgam in a nutshell

While sometimes referred to as “silver amalgam,” amalgam actually consists of a combination of metals. Aside from silver, amalgam is also made up of copper, tin, silver and mercury. Small amounts of palladium, indium, and zinc may also be included.

Why is mercury used in amalgam?

Many people have amalgam fillings. However, concerns have arisen because of the mercury content in amalgams. Mercury is used in amalgam because it can help make the filling material more pliable.

When mixed with alloy powder, it can create a compound soft enough to be pressed into the tooth. More importantly, it can cause it to harden really quick and it helps it become strong enough to withstand biting and chewing forces.

Why the concern over the mercury content in amalgam?

In essence, mercury is a metal that can be found in the environment. It can exist as liquid but when heated, it can turn to gas. Mercury can also be combined with other materials.

amalgam removal

People can become exposed to mercury through drinking water, soil, food, and air. However, as with most substances, harm that can be caused by mercury is dependent on the amount. In other words, very low levels won’t cause any ill effects. At higher levels however, it can manifest several symptoms including irritability, headaches, memory loss, anxiety, and fatigue.

Controversy over the use of mercury in amalgam centers on the amount of mercury fillings that can be released and how much of the said amount the body can end up absorbing. In the past, amalgam fillings were believed to be inert. In other words, it is believed that no mercury is released once the filling is placed in the mouth.

In recent years however, sophisticated tests showed that minimal amounts of mercury (in the form of vapor) is released as the amalgam filling wears off.

Are there other alternatives to amalgam?

Nowadays, indium can be mixed into the dental amalgam. Indium can help retain mercury so less will be released into the environment. High-copper amalgams also exist and they contain more copper and less mercury.

Dentists can make use of other materials to restore teeth including porcelain, gold, and resin. Amalgam is considered stronger than composite resin and will require less time in the dentist’s office. Composite resin however wears faster than amalgam so it’s not always used in every situation.

Should I consider amalgam removal?

In most cases, amalgam fillings are only removed when they are broken or worn or when decay occurs beneath the filling. If you are concerned about mercury and would like to resort to amalgam removal, consider it best to discuss your options with your dentist.

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