Some people with older dental fillings have been wondering if they should have their metal fillings replaced with composite resin or porcelain fillings for safety reasons. For over a century, dentists have been using metal compounds to fill cavities. Silver or metal fillings are also called amalgam, which is a mix of liquid mercury with a powder containing silver, tin, copper and other metals. Over the last few decades, concerns have been raised about the safety of using amalgam because of its mercury content.
Mercury is a metal that is naturally found in the environment. All walks of life are exposed to it through the air, water, soil and some foods. Where the concerns lay is in the amount of mercury that is absorbed by the body and builds up in organs via constant exposure. Extremely low levels of exposure don’t seem to cause any ill effects, but higher levels from overexposure (usually due to a mercury-based work environment) can cause symptoms such as anxiety, fatigue, memory loss and persistent headaches. This more recent data usually leads to the question of why it isn’t simply removed from dental amalgam.
Mercury is an important part of the mixture because it helps make the filling material malleable. When it is mixed with the compound powder, it creates a composite that is supple enough to compress into the affected area of the tooth. It is quick to harden and can withstand the force of daily use. Studies show that the amount of mercury patients are exposed to from metal fillings is extremely low – much less than the amount that most are exposed to on a day-to-day basis through the environment or the food they ingest.
Although the American Dental Association has deemed amalgam fillings to be safe, many patients are opting to switch to composite resin or porcelain fillings. Todays advanced technology affords patients an array of options to traditional materials, minimizing the use of amalgam. However, newer composites aren’t always optimum for use in all situations. In teeth that are exposed to heavy force from chewing, amalgam will hold up better over time versus composite resins. These resins are made from a mixture of plastic and fine glass particles and can be produced in a shade to match the color of your natural teeth. They just aren’t always as durable over time. Another option is porcelain fillings. This material is very durable, can also be matched to the color of your teeth, and is very stain resistant. For those who like the shine, gold fillings are a durable option but can cost up to 10 times as much as silver amalgam fillings.
When treating new dental issues and cavities, you should speak to your dental professional about the pros and cons of using an alternative material to amalgam, such as porcelain. It is also a great time to discuss replacing old and worn-out fillings as well. If your metal fillings have failed over time, it may be time to replace them. Untreated cavities can eventually lead to serious tooth infection as can teeth that have fillings that start to fail, and replacing the filling may be the best solution. Replacing metal fillings with porcelain fillings or other tooth-colored composites can be advantageous to both the long-term health of your teeth, as well as to the overall aesthetic look of your smile.
For more information about porcelain fillings, contact Gentle Dental in Queens at 718-461-0100.