Bishou Dentistry

What are the alternatives to mercury fillings?

     The Federal Food and Drug Administration recently announced that mercury in amalgam fillings could be harmful to pregnant women, children, fetuses and people sensitive to mercury exposure.
An amalgam filling is a metal material used to fill this hole and it is this metal which contains small amounts of mercury.  For more than a century this amalgam was the primary filling material used by dentists.

Amalgam fillings are silver-colored and often turn dark or black over time.  Have a look in your mouth or that of a loved one who has had a filling placed and there is a good chance you will see one of these silver or black fillings.    Many patients today are electing not to have these fillings placed in their mouths simply because they are unsightly.  But the controversy concerning this metal filling material is not about its color, but about the small amount of mercury it contains.  For decades there have been debates about whether the material was safe to place in patients’ mouths.  In the last twenty years, newer materials have been developed but amalgam is still being used.

Why?  Amalgam fillings have been used for more than 150 years.  Their use is still taught in dental schools and paid for by insurance.  It is a less expensive material.  And, finally, it is less technique-sensitive for the dentists to place.

Today’s dental consumers can choose the newer non-metal materials to repair their teeth.  These new materials are made of composite resins or porcelains and have numerous advantages over amalgam.  First of all, they have the natural color of healthy teeth.  No longer do you have to smile and show dark and unsightly restorations.  Patients appreciate this; the appearance of restored teeth is always an important consideration.  Most often these restorations are chemically attached to the surrounding tooth structure.  This bonding procedure means these restorations require the removal of less good tooth structure and when properly bonded to the natural tooth these restorations can help maintain the natural strength of the remaining tooth.

Even with all the obvious advantages of the non-metal restorations, there are still some perceived disadvantages.

The bonded restorations are much more technique-sensitive to place and many dentists don’t learn the proper technique until after dental school, so advanced training is required.  The materials cost the dentists much more, and these restorations require more time to place properly.  These reasons together explain why these restorations typically cost the patient more, and unfortunately, cost will often influence which restorative material is used.

Many dentists in the United States have been watching the advisories issued in the European countries for the last ten years regarding concerns about amalgam fillings and the mercury they contain, and most dentists in North America have already moved away from them and now favor the non-metal, natural-looking, bonded restorations.

The bottom line is that as with every decision regarding your oral health, you should ask your dentist what would be the best material to use for your particular situation.

Oh my! Mercury is dangerous. It should not be placed in our teeth. Thanks for this informative blog.


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    Dr. Michael A. Miyasaki

    Graduate from the University of Southern California School of Dentistry in 1987 and has been involved in teaching other dentists the latest in cosmetic and neuromuscular dentistry for over 18 years.  He lectures both nationally and internationaly on aesthetic/cosmetic dental procedures and occlusion (the bite).  Dr. Miyasaki is also a certified Pure Power Mouthguard (PPM) dentist.


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