For many years, the least expensive option for dental fillings has been dental amalgam. Dental amalgam is a combination of mostly powdered silver, tin and copper and liquid mercury.
The amalgam components are combined and placed in a cavity detected by your dental professional. Dental amalgam does not bond to tooth structure and requires extensive cavity preparation in order to produce a retentive dental restoration. It also has a silver color, which eventually becomes dark and unsightly, due to oxidation of the metallic components.
Dental amalgam poses great risk to dental staff and patients. A patient with an amalgam filling inhales mercury fumes, which evaporate from the filling due to wear. Again, unreacted liquid mercury present in the filling may leak into the surrounding gingiva and other tissues. Removal of a failed amalgam filling also releases mercury vapor which is inhaled by anyone present.
Liquid mercury is toxic even in low amounts and its exposure results in symptoms such as irritability, headaches and general malaise. It may even result in more severe complications such as brain and kidney disease with high or constant contact, such as is the case for dental staff.
There are some arguments about the levels of mercury vapor released from dental amalgam with some suggesting that these levels are too low to cause any harm. However, most experts agree that there is always some amount of mercury vapor escape during placing and especially when removing dental amalgam.
Therefore, the use of mercury must be avoided in the dental setting at all costs and tooth colored materials, which bind to tooth structure and are more esthetic should be encouraged. However, for a practice to be truly mercury-free, there should be safe removal of old amalgam fillings by extracting resultant mercury fumes from the dental unit, thus, preventing any further unnecessary exposure to staff or patients.
Mercury-free dentistry is a safe, effective treatment and should be embraced everywhere! Feel free to ask a team member for more information.