Can You Get Mercury Poisoning from Amalgam Fillings?
If you’ve had a cavity in your lifetime, you are probably familiar with the silver fillings dentists refer to as amalgam fillings. If you have amalgam fillings, you might be surprised to find out that 50 percent of that filling is mercury, and every time you disturb that filling by eating, drinking, or grinding your teeth, you risk the chance of being exposed to toxic mercury.
Thankfully, there are alternatives to this type of filling available, and many dental practices in the United States offer safe amalgam filling removal and replacement with safer, alternative materials. When it comes to the health of your mouth and filling your cavities, you should know your full range of options.
Understanding Dental Fillings
In order to understand amalgam fillings and the mercury in them, it is best to learn about dental fillings first. Dental fillings are used to ‘fill in’ cavities to stop the decay process. Dental fillings are typically classified into two categories, direct and indirect. The type of filling you receive typically depends on the amount of damage to the tooth.
When most people think of getting a cavity filled, a direct filling is the type of filling that comes to their mind. During your dental check-up or appointment to diagnose tooth pain, your dentist may physically see a cavity on your tooth or they may take bitewing x-rays and that will reveal the tooth decay. The decay is then drilled from the tooth and a filling is inserted into the hole during the appointment. Depending on the type of direct filling, a blue light may be used to turn the malleable filling material into a hard durable surface.
There are two types of indirect fillings, inlay, and onlay. Indirect fillings are considered when not enough tooth structure remains to support a filling but the tooth is not so severely damaged that it needs a crown. Both inlay and onlay indirect fillings will require two visits to your dentist, one to remove the decay and create an impression, and one to cement the permanent restoration. The permanent restoration is custom-made to fit the impression your dentist creates during the first visit in a laboratory.
- Inlay Fillings - Inlay fillings are indirect fillings that are placed inside the tooth between the points of the molar. It is called an indirect filling because the dentist takes an impression of the tooth and sends that impression to a laboratory where a filling is created to the exact dimensions of the cavity. Once the inlay arrives back at the dentist’s office, a second appointment is scheduled to place the filling. The dentist may opt to place a temporary filling while the inlay is being created.
- Onlay Fillings - Onlay fillings are very similar to inlay fillings in that it is an indirect filling where an impression is made of the tooth and that impression is sent to the laboratory. It is called an onlay filling because the tooth-colored filling material extends over the points on the molar.
Amalgam Fillings: What Are They?
Amalgam fillings have been around for more than 150 years due to their low cost and easy placement inside the cavity. They are also extremely durable, lasting as long as 10 years, and do not tend to break or crack unless additional tooth decay occurs around the filling. However, in recent years these fillings have fallen out of favor due to their high mercury content.
Considered a direct filling, amalgam fillings are made of 50 percent mercury and 50 percent other metals, including copper, zinc, and silver. Amalgam fillings are silver colored and often referred to as ‘silver fillings’. While the mixture of copper, silver, and zinc in these fillings are not a cause for concern, mercury is a known neurotoxin. Excessive exposure to mercury can cause mercury poisoning. Common side effects of exposure to mercury are exhaustion or fatigue, headaches, and changes in behavior or mood.
Certain individuals are also more susceptible to mercury poisoning than others, and these groups include women who may become pregnant, infants who are breastfeeding, individuals with known kidney problems and people who have a genetic sensitivity to mercury exposure.
Even if you aren’t part of a high-risk group, you should know that every individual with silver amalgam fillings will have higher levels of mercury in their blood and urine. This is because the mercury from the filling evaporates, is inhaled, and then absorbed into the bloodstream. The body is continuously exposed to mercury during insertion of the filling, and everytime individuals with these fillings chew, drink, or grind their teeth.
While it is argued that amalgam fillings are ‘safe’, research shows that these fillings will expose patients to mercury as long as the filling is in their mouths. Since mercury is toxic and has the potential to leak mercury in the mouth from the moment it is placed, most individuals should consider having their amalgam fillings removed and replaced with safer, modern fillings.
Amalgam Filling Alternatives
Regardless of your health, exposure to any level of mercury is questionably unsafe. Many dentists, especially those who practice green dentistry, are refusing to use amalgam fillings on their patients. Thankfully, there are multiple options that are safer, including ceramic, composite, glass, and gold.
Ceramic fillings are typically used for inlay and onlay fillings where the tooth needs more support than a direct filling can provide. They are typically constructed out of porcelain, which is considered extremely durable and stain resistant. Ceramic fillings typically last at least seven years.
Composite fillings are tooth-colored, and can be used for both direct and indirect fillings. They are made of a mixture of plastic resin and glass particles. These fillings can be used for both small and large cavities. Once placed in your tooth, a dental curing blue light is used to harden the material. Once cured, these fillings typically at least five years.
Glass fillings, also referred to as glass ionomer fillings, are used to fill cavities on the front teeth, for root canals, and as a liner for other types of fillings, like inlays. This type of filling does not require a curing light in order to set the filling. Like composite fillings, glass fillings last at least five years.
Gold is used to create inlays, onlays, and crowns. Gold fillings are not used as direct filling material. While more expensive than other amalgam filling alternative, individuals choose gold fillings when they want a filling that isn’t silver or tooth colored. These fillings are very durable and will last for at least 15 years.
Amalgam Filling Removal
Many Americans are choosing to have their amalgam fillings replaced with safer materials to avoid mercury poisoning. Many dentists specialize in holistic dental procedures like this, including VP Dental in Raleigh, North Carolina. Dental practices like VP Dental will remove your amalgam fillings, and replace them with tooth-colored composite fillings. This type of filling is very durable, and non-toxic, unlike mercury-filled amalgam fillings.
When silver fillings are removed, every precaution is taken by dental professionals to prevent excessive mercury exposure to the individual having the filling removed, the dental personnel, and the environment. Once the filling has been removed, it is placed into the appropriate container and properly disposed of.
If you have silver fillings and want to reduce your risk of mercury poisoning, you should consider getting your amalgam fillings replaced. To see if you’d make a good candidate for an amalgam filling removal and replacement with a composite resin, contact your local dental practice that specializes in this type of dental procedure.
Serving the North Raleigh area for 18 years, VP Dental is dedicated to treating each patient as an individual and focuses on total body health. The team stays current using the very latest in dental technology, wellness practices, and concierge dental care practices. Our goal is to create relationships that make people look and feel their best