The removal and the replacement of amalgam, the mercury based substance used for dental fillings, is highly controversial. Most dental professionals assert that the procedure is justified only in the rare group of patients who are allergic to mercury. Yet others contend that amalgam, although it is cost-effective, is toxic even in miniscule amounts. They believe that over the years mercury could leach out of fillings and accumulate in the kidneys, brain and other organs, causing such ailments as allergies, migraines and fatigue.
These doctors suggest that many individuals could benefit from having their amalgam fillings replaced with fillings made of another material, such as plastic, gold or ceramic. Despite concerns about the safety of amalgam, the material remains the most popular substance used for fillings in many countries.
Commonly referred to as “silver” because of its shiny, metallic gray color, amalgam has been used for more than 100 years to fill dental cavities. Amalgam is a mixture of 53 percent mercury, 20 percent silver, 16 percent tin and 12 percent copper. It is cheaper than other filling materials and is still considered safe and effective by many dentists. An amalgam filling can usually last from 8-15 years.
There are various safety measures for those undergoing the procedure. To prevent swallowing amalgam dust or breathing in mercury vapors that may result from procedure we use a dental dam, a thin rubber film that covers and protects the mucous membranes while allowing free access to individual teeth. Amalgam removal is done under high speed suction in order to reduce exposure to mercury vapour in the process.
The American Dental Association and all the dental schools in the US endorse amalgam. They insist that the mercury in the fillings is safe and that removal is unnecessary except when a patient has an allergic reaction to the material. Others point out that mercury from pollutants in the environment poses a higher risk than that in amalgam fillings.