Remember the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carol’s classic tale, “Alice in Wonderland?” Ever wonder why he was mad? Well, he wasn’t mad in the angry sense of the word. Instead, like many hat makers that plied their trade during the Industrial Revolution, the Mad Hatter was slowly going insane due to the exposure to mercuric nitrate. In the 17th century, hatmakers across both France and England used mercuric nitrate to enhance the pliability of the furs and felts they used in their craft. Exposure to the resulting fumes often caused neurological disorders. Common symptoms of this malady included chronic irritability, mental instability, depression, extreme shyness, memory loss, and physical tremors.
Because we now know that there is a certain level of risk associated with the common exposure to mercury in its various forms, many patients wonder if getting a dental amalgam filling presents any sort of danger to their overall health.
First, let us address WHY mercury is included in amalgam fillings. Amalgam fillings are commonly made up of several metals, and commonly include silver, copper, tin, mercury, and sometimes zinc. The type of amalgam that has been used most commonly over the last century and a half is sometimes referred to as “silver amalgam.” Due to continuing technological advances in the dental field, newer methods of repairing deteriorating teeth are being developed, including newer tooth-colored compounds, however “silver amalgam” is still the most commonly used material for filling cavities.
Mercury is the only metal that remains in a liquid state at room temperature, and as such, makes it an ideal choice for use in amalgam fillings. When your dental provider mixes the amalgam filling material in preparation for filling a cavity, it is the mercuric content of the amalgam that makes the compound soft and pliable. Because it is soft and pliable, your dental provider can easily pack your very tiny cavity with the filling material.
Now, let us address the common concerns regarding the mercuric content of amalgam fillings. In recent years, there have been many studies performed by many groups and researchers to determine if the amount of mercury in an amalgam filling presents a risk to the human body. The results of these studies are quite diverse and complicated. Because most cavities are very small, and therefore, only need a small amount of amalgam to fill them, and only a small portion of that amalgam is made up of mercury, the risk associated with the mercuric content of such fillings is considered to be very, very low.
If your dental provider recommends that you receive an amalgam filling, it is because he realizes that the risks associated with the very small amount of mercury in an amalgam filling outweighs the benefits that such a filling would provide. If amalgam fillings are concerning to you, you should be aware that allowing dental decay to progress untreated will result in the development of more serious dental issues. There are other materials available to dentists for the restoration of teeth, however, alternative materials may not hold up as well over time, and may not be the best choice for every situation. Your dental provider knows this, and will do his best to provide you with all the information you need regarding the best choice for filling or repairing your decaying tooth.
Of course, the best way to deal with a cavity is to prevent it from occurring, by following a healthy oral care routine that includes brushing, flossing, and seeing your dentist for regular cleanings.
For more information about amalgam fillings, contact us. Our caring staff would be happy to discuss your concerns with you, and answer any questions you might have.