Dental Amalgam

What do amalgam fillings contain?

For more than 150 years, dental fillings known as amalgams have been widely used to treat tooth decay.

Amalgam fillings are made of a mixture of metals. The ingredients include equal parts of elemental mercury (43 to 54 percent), and an alloy powder (46 to 57 percent) mainly composed of silver, tin, copper.

What are the benefits of using amalgam to repair cavities?

Dental amalgam is used to repair dental cavities in people of all ages. Because of amalgam’s durability, it is a good choice if a tooth is severely damaged or if a cavity is below the gum line. Teeth located in the back of the mouth (molars) have to bear great stresses from chewing and grinding, and an amalgam-filled molar will resist cracking or breaking.

Amalgam is very pliable when placed in a tooth, it is easy to use, and hardens to a very durable filling that lasts many years.

Other considerations for a dentist to choose amalgam include a patient’s poor dental hygiene; the need for moisture control during the tooth filling process; cost, when it is an overriding concern for a dental patient.

Generally amalgam is less expensive than other filling materials.

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Are there health concerns about amalgam fillings?

Concern has been raised about amalgam because it contains elemental mercury, and very small amounts of mercury vapor are emitted from dental fillings. The vapor is absorbed in the body mainly through inhalation or ingestion.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing dental amalgam safety to determine if any special labeling or restrictions for certain populations (children and pregnant women, for example) will be required. The FDA will be issue a final rule classifying dental amalgam by July 28, 2009. See the FDA link below for more details.

Amalgam use has declined a great deal since the 1970’s due to:

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What other materials are used to treat dental cavities?

1. Composite resin fillings – composite fillings are a mixture of powdered glass and plastic resin. It is used for fillings, inlays, veneers, crowns, or to repair portions of broken teeth.

2. Resin-Ionomer cement – a mixture of glass, plastic resin and organic acid that hardens when exposed to blue light used in a dental office. Often used for small fillings, cementing metal and porcelain metal crowns and liners

3. Glass-Ionomer cement – self-hardening mixture of glass and organic acid; tooth-colored; used for small fillings, cementing metal and porcelain, temporary restorations.

4. Nickel or Cobalt-Chrome alloys – mixture of nickel and chromium; dark silver colored, used for crowns, fixed bridges, and most partial denture frameworks.

5. Porcelain (ceramic) – glass-like material formed into fillings or crowns using a model of the prepared tooth; tooth colored, veneers, crowns and fixed bridges.

6. Gold alloy – gold-colored mixture of gold, copper and other metals, and is used mainly for crowns, fixed bridges and some partial denture framework.

7. Porcelain fused to metal – glass-like material that is “enameled” on top of metal shells. It is tooth-colored and is used for crowns and fixed bridges.

* The length of time a restoration (filling, crown, inlay, veneer, etc) will last depends upon a person’s dental hygiene, home care, diet and chewing habits.

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Are there health concerns about these filling materials?

Ingredients in dental fillings and materials may have side effects or cause allergic reactions, just like other materials we may come in contact with in our daily lives.

There are no documented cases of allergic reactions to composite resin, glass ionomer, resin ionomer or porcelain. There have been rare allergic responses to dental amalgam, porcelain fused to metal, gold alloys and nickel-cobalt-chrome alloys.

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Should pregnant women get amalgam fillings?

Women who are pregnant and are seeking dental care, should inform their dentist that they are pregnant and discuss treatment options.

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How safe are amalgam fillings for children?

Tooth decay among children and young adults has declined due to many preventative measures such as topical and systemic fluoride, sealants, and improved oral hygiene practices.
Recently, the National Institute of Dental and Crainialfacial Research (NIDCR) released the results of two long-term clinical trials which studied the health effects of amalgam in children. One of the studies was conducted in Europe, the other in the United States. Independently these studies reached the same conclusion: children whose cavities were filled with dental amalgam had no adverse health effects.

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How is amalgam waste from dental offices disposed of ?

Vermont requires all dentists to collect amalgam waste before it goes down the drain, using amalgam separators. The Dental Best Management Practices (BMPs) require all dental practices to self-certify for compliance with the requirements by January 31, 2007.

Proper handling of dental amalgam waste and other hazardous wastes are also required under the BMPs, and will lead to a significant decrease in amalgam/mercury waste releases into wastewater treatment plants and systems.

For the past ten years, the Vermont Dental Society and Vermont’s dental community have advocated for and implemented BMPs to reduce the amount of mercury waste from amalgam released into the environment. Their efforts included educational materials, elemental mercury collection programs for dentists, collaboration with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation on dentist surveys, and development of the self-certification program for the dental BMPs.

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