In order to treat cavities and a variety of other dental problems, dental fillings have been utilized for many years. Amalgam, a mixture of several metals that includes mercury, silver, tin, and copper, is one of the most common materials used in dental fillings.
While amalgam fillings have been used successfully in dentistry for over 150 years, there has been a growing debate over their safety and environmental impact.
History of Amalgam Fillings
The use of mercury in medicine dates back thousands of years, with the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese all using mercury in their medical practices. In the 1800s, a French dentist named Auguste Taveau developed the first amalgam filling using silver, tin, and mercury. The mixture was easy to use, durable, and cost-effective and soon became the most popular material used in dental fillings.
Use Of Amalgam Fillings In Dentistry
Amalgam fillings quickly gained popularity in dentistry due to their durability, ease of use, and low cost. They were used to treat cavities and other dental issues in millions of patients worldwide and, for many years, were the most commonly used filling material.
Controversy Surrounding The Safety Of Amalgam Fillings
Despite their popularity, amalgam fillings have long been a subject of controversy due to their mercury content. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal that can be harmful to human health, especially in high doses. Some studies have suggested that the mercury in amalgam fillings can leak into the body and cause health problems such as neurological disorders, kidney damage, and autoimmune diseases.
Risks Associated with Amalgam Fillings
Mercury Content In The Amalgam Filling
Amalgam fillings are made up of around 50% mercury, a toxic heavy metal that can be harmful to human health. Mercury is known to be a neurotoxin, meaning it can damage the nervous system and brain. Although the amount of mercury released from amalgam fillings is considered to be low, some studies suggest that the cumulative effect of exposure to mercury from fillings over time could be harmful.
Health Risks Associated With Mercury Exposure
Exposure to high levels of mercury can cause a range of health problems, including neurological damage, kidney damage, respiratory problems, and autoimmune diseases. While the amount of mercury released from amalgam fillings is considered to be low, people who have many fillings or who grind their teeth may be at increased risk of exposure.
Research On The Health Risks Of Amalgam Fillings
Many studies on the safety of amalgam fillings have shown contradictory results. Some studies have suggested that the mercury in fillings can cause health problems, while others have found no evidence of harm. Nonetheless, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other dental organizations have declared amalgam fillings to be safe.
Government’s Stance On the Safety of Amalgam Fillings
In the UK, the use of dental amalgam fillings is now prohibited for specific groups, including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and children below 15 years of age, except when clinically necessary.
The ban is in line with EU regulations and is primarily due to environmental concerns, as mercury found in dental amalgam fillings can have adverse effects on both human health and the environment.
The UK government plans to completely phase out the use of dental amalgam fillings for all patients by 2030.
Our Stance at St Edward Street Dental Practice
At St Edward Street Dental Practice, we take the safety of our patients very seriously. While we still offer amalgam fillings as an option for adult patients, we also offer a range of alternative filling materials that are mercury-free and biocompatible.
Our dentists will work with you to determine the best filling material for your individual needs and preferences, taking into account factors such as the age and condition of the patients.
Alternatives to Amalgam Fillings
Tooth-coloured fillings, also called composite fillings, consist of a combination of glass and plastic materials. These fillings have become increasingly popular due to their natural appearance, durability, and biocompatibility. Unlike other types of fillings, composite fillings do not contain any metals, including mercury, which makes them a safer option for patients.
Additionally, they blend in well with the surrounding teeth, providing a seamless and aesthetically pleasing result.
Glass Ionomer Fillings
Glass ionomer fillings are a type of tooth-coloured filling that contains fluoride, making them a good option for patients who are at risk of developing cavities. They are also a good choice for patients with small cavities, as they are not as strong as composite fillings and may not be suitable for larger fillings. Glass ionomer fillings are also free of mercury and other metals.
Gold fillings are a long-lasting and durable option for patients who want a filling that will last for many years. They are also biocompatible, meaning they are less likely to cause allergic reactions or other health problems. Gold fillings are more expensive than conventional filling materials, but they are also more aesthetically beautiful and can last up to 20 years.
Ceramic fillings, also known as porcelain fillings, are a strong and durable option for patients who want a natural-looking filling that blends in with their teeth. They are made from a mixture of porcelain and other materials and are custom-made to fit your tooth perfectly. Ceramic fillings are also free of mercury and other metals.
The use of amalgam fillings in dentistry has long been a subject of controversy due to their mercury content and potential health risks. While the UK government has banned their use in certain groups of patients, they are still considered safe for use in adults.
However, at St Edward Street Dental Practice, we believe in offering our patients a range of options when it comes to dental fillings, including mercury-free alternatives such as composite, glass ionomer, gold, and ceramic fillings. Our dentists will work with you to determine the best filling material for your individual needs and preferences, ensuring that your dental treatment is both safe and effective.