There are several options for dental filling materials today, but mercury amalgam fillings used to be the standard. They’re made from about 50 percent liquid mercury (also known as “elemental mercury”) combined with a powdered alloy made of silver, tin, and copper. For decades, dentists regularly used mercury amalgam fillings to repair tooth decay because of its durability and cost-effectiveness, despite the lack of aesthetic appeal.
“Dentists have used these fillings for more than 150 years all over the world,” Nathan Janowicz, DMD tells Cleveland Clinic.
Since the introduction of composite resin fillings in the 1960s and the subsequent improvements, many dentists have gradually moved away from providing mercury-containing fillings. Still, amalgam fillings remain in use today and their safety has been the subject of much debate due to their mercury content.
It was originally thought that the mercury was securely contained within the amalgam, so the patient would not experience any exposure to mercury vapors after the filling was placed.
Today we know differently. Research has shown that small amounts of mercury are emitted from the fillings over time.
When people chew or the teeth are heated, the fillings emit mercury vapor that is absorbed by the body. The FDA released a statement in 2020 attesting to this, noting that the level of exposure can differ from person to person.
“The amalgam releases small amounts of mercury vapor over time,” the FDA reports, having studied the scientific literature and monitored reports on the subject for more than 20 years. “How much vapor is released can also depend on the age of the filling as well as a person’s habits such as teeth grinding.”
Mercury is toxic even at very low levels, so there is growing concern among the medical community that the mercury in fillings could be contributing to systemic health problems. Mercury exposure has been known to leave damaging effects on the nervous system, immune system, and digestive system as well as the kidney, eyes, and skin.
“Elemental and methylmercury are toxic to the central and peripheral nervous systems. The inhalation of mercury vapor can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal,” the World Health Organization reports.
Though mercury amalgam fillings expose patients to only low levels of mercury vapors, it is enough to cause concern. In 2009, the WHO conducted an expert consultation that concluded a “global near-term ban on amalgam would be problematic for public health and the dental health sector,” but they recommended a “phase down” in the industry by raising awareness about the issues associated with mercury fillings and promoting alternatives, in addition to continuing to encourage tooth decay prevention.
If you already have a mercury filling, you may be concerned about the effects it could be having on your body. For most healthy people, removing an existing mercury filling may not be critical; but if you have any mercury fillings, existing health issues, or are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, it may be worth considering.
“While low levels of inhaled mercury vapor are generally not harmful to most people, these high-risk individuals may be at increased risk of adverse health outcomes,” the FDA concludes.
If you or a loved one fall into any of these categories, it may be worth getting the mercury fillings removed:
Nashville Restorative Dentistry offers safe mercury amalgam filling removal and replacement for any patient concerned about exposure. We take the risk of mercury exposure seriously, and we are passionate about improving our patients’ overall health.
We have several procedures and precautionary measures in place that go above and beyond to minimize mercury exposure during the filling removal process, including:
If you’re concerned about your mercury fillings, we are here to help. We can safely remove them and replace them with a non-toxic metal-free alternative.
Your oral health affects the rest of your body. A healthy mouth is critical to achieving and maintaining whole-body wellness.
Nashville Restorative Dentistry is committed to supporting complete wellness through holistic, metal-free dentistry. We use biocompatible materials and avoid the use of potentially concerning substances like BPA, mercury, fluoride, and unnecessary radiation. You deserve to feel confident about the safety of your care and the quality of your smile. We’re passionate about identifying the underlying causes of any issue you may be experiencing as opposed to just treating symptoms, so you can restore your health and confidence for the long term.
We understand the importance of having a dentist you can trust. And that means not being sent off to a different specialist every time you need a new procedure. At Nashville Restorative Dentistry, we are equipped to handle the majority of your dental needs, from cosmetic to restorative, implants to extractions. When you come to us, you are getting a dental team for life.
Parkway Dentistry – “The History of Composite Resins”
FDA – “FDA Issues Recommendations for Certain High-Risk Groups Regarding Mercury-Containing Dental Amalgam”
World Health Organization – “Mercury and Health”