Holistic dentists across the country have been making a stand against the use of dental amalgams as a filling material for a long time. Also known as mercury fillings, many patients find themselves searching for dentists who only deal in mercury-free fillings. But, are mercury fillings harmful?

Many practitioners of biological dentistry certainly think so. Against the official position of the American Dental Association, many a holistic dentist has chosen to avoid all use of mercury in their practice.

It definitely goes against the grain in the field. For decades, the American Dental Association (ADA) has asserted that any mercury in amalgam fillings is inert and safe for use in dental reconstructions. But most holistic dentists consider mercury fillings toxic.

And especially for parents seeking holistic pediatric dentistry — they want to be sure they have the safest dental filling for their child.

In this case, the best holistic dentist can provide mercury-free fillings and biological dentistry care for their entire family.

What Are Amalgam Fillings

Amalgam fillings, sometimes called “mercury fillings” or “silver fillings” are an alloy used to plug dental cavities to prevent further decay. Dentists have been using them in regular practice for 150 years.

In fact, one of the first mentions of an amalgam alloy in dental use was as far back as 659 AD.

But just because something has been around a long time doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do things now. Amalgam fillings are an alloy of silver, tin, copper, and mercury. The dentist mixes the alloy up in the office right before using it for your teeth.

The concern is the use of mercury — or quicksilver — which is a known neurotoxin with debilitating effects, especially on children and unborn babies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Environmental Protection Agency both recommend against the use of mercury thermometers in the home. However, the use of mercury fillings is still endorsed by the American Dental Association (ADA).

Research finds that the amount of mercury vapor from amalgam fillings falls far below the maximums established by The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, some individuals are particularly sensitive to mercury exposure. Also, the unknown amount of environmental exposure in addition to their silver fillings leaves many people at risk for cumulative effects.

Compounded with environmental or occupational exposure, silver amalgam fillings may tip the scales.

What Are the Options for Mercury-Free Fillings?

The FDA offers information on two of the most common mercury-free filling options for treating cavities.

Composite resin fillings

The most common mercury-free fillings are made from composite resin. Sometimes they’re called “tooth-colored” because they’re white and blend in with the natural coloring of your teeth.

Manufactured from acrylic resin — a kind of plastic — the material uses powdered glass filler for strength. Your dentist can custom color the resin to match your existing teeth. Your dentist layers the resin and cures each one with a UV “blue light” until the tooth is fully restored.

Composite fillings offer a natural-looking appearance, and the best dentists will provide them for front tooth fillings.

Glass ionomer cement fillings

Glass ionomer cement fillings are similar to resins. These fillings use organic acids and bases such as eugenol and zinc oxide. They may also contain acrylic resins.

Unlike composite resins, however, glass isomer fillings self- cure without the need for a blue light. They offer a more natural appearance, but can only be used on smaller cavities. One striking advantage is that they can be embedded with fluoride to prevent future tooth decay.

Other, less commonly used mercury-free fillings include gold and porcelain fillings.

Amalgam Fillings vs. Composite Fillings

While the ADA continues to support the use of amalgam fillings, you may be skeptical about the need to switch to composites. Perhaps your child needs fillings, and your dental plan covers all the cost of amalgam but not the cost of composites.

While there’s no debate about the better appearance of composites over amalgams, you should consider all the evidence in the cases of each type.

Longevity

A 2007 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) concluded that composite fillings in kids required more frequent replacement and repair compared to amalgam fillings.

A more recent 2014 study performed on adults, however, showed little significant difference in the lifespan of composite vs. amalgam fillings. Although they acknowledged the fact that amalgam seems to be more durable, they also raised some concerns about mercury sensitivity.

And an extensive meta-analysis of the data found reports of amalgam durability rates of 94.4 percent after 7 years, with 85.5 percent survival rate for composite over the same time frame.

While not as durable, many people think the shorter composite filling lifespan is a good tradeoff for it’s more natural appearance and lower risk of mercury poisoning.

Amalgam pros and cons

Despite the concerns with mercury toxicity, amalgam fillings are still one of the most commonly used materials for dental restoration. They have a few distinct advantages:

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Durable
  • Useful for larger restorations

Cons

And of course, mercury fillings have some decided downsides as well.

  • They contain mercury, a known neurotoxin
  • Unattractive and adds a gray tint to your surrounding tooth
  • Makes dental restoration obvious.

More patients are demanding composite fillings because of both the aesthetic and concerns about damage to the nervous system due to mercury vapor.

Although both the ADA and the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) find the use of amalgam fillings acceptable, both admit that they result in the release of mercury vapor while chewing or speaking. The CDA supports more research into its possible health effects.

Composite pros and cons

If you’re considering mercury-free fillings, you should understand both the pros and cons of the white tooth fillings.

Pros

  • Matches the surrounding teeth and blends in
  • Relatively durable
  • Can be placed without removing much of the healthy tooth

Cons

  • Can be harder to place than mercury fillings
  • Slightly less durable than amalgams and may need replacement
  • Higher cost
  • May not be covered by your dental plan

Amalgam Fillings Removal

If you have developed an allergy or sensitivity to mercury, you may wonder if you should have your fillings removed and replaced with mercury-free fillings. The FDA recommends you discuss it with your dentist.

Some people develop a hypersensitivity over time because of exposure to mercury from their amalgam fillings.

Symptoms of mercury sensitivity include

  • Skin rashes in and on the mouth
  • Rashes in the head and neck area
  • Swollen lips
  • Lesions in the mouth

Individuals with hypersensitivity to mercury should have their fillings removed.

Specialists have developed specific procedures to safely remove your amalgam fillings and replace them with mercury-free fillings like composite or porcelain.

Mercury fillings removal cost

Depending on the extent of the original repair, the cost of removing your silver amalgam fillings can run between $115 to $300.

Removing amalgam fillings side effects

In 2012, the Journal of Environmental Public Health published a safe protocol for the removal of amalgam fillings. These procedures ensure the minimal amount of exposure to mercury vapor for both the patient and the dental care provider during removal.

For the most part, people with health complaints prior to replacement enjoy increased good health and increased energy afterward.

A 2011 study showed that patients who had their amalgam fillings replaced with mercury-free fillings reported significantly fewer overall health complaints at the three-year mark of the study.

First signs of amalgam poisoning

If you’re concerned that you may be reacting negatively to your amalgam fillings, the following list details some possible signs of mercury vapor inhalation provided by The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT):

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Delusions, delirium, or hallucination
  • Enlargement of thyroid
  • Fatigue
  • General weakness
  • Headaches
  • Hearing loss
  • Insomnia
  • Kidney problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of coordination
  • Mood swings
  • Respiratory problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Tremors
  • Weight loss

Composite Resin Mercury-Free Fillings

Most people agree that composite resin fillings provide a much more natural look for your dental restoration. Composite has been the industry standard for front tooth cavity filling for the last 50 years.

Let’s take a look at some of the details about this option.

Composite fillings cost

While more expensive than silver amalgam, the cost of composite fillings can usually fit into most budgets. More dental insurance providers are willing to cover some or even all of the cost than they were in the past due to patient demand.

Depending on the size of the restoration and the location of the tooth, you can expect your composite filling to cost anywhere from $150 to $170. In cities with a higher cost of living, you may pay up to $250.

Composite fillings danger

While the debate over silver amalgam fillings seems eternal, there are also some individuals reticent to accept composite resin fillings whole-heartedly. Some scientists have shown that chemicals can leech from the composite polymers. Tests on animal subjects have shown that they can become sensitive to some of the chemicals in the filling materials.

However, advancements in the composite fillings used and improvements in the process has drastically reduced these concern. More recent investigation shows that following the correct filling and curing procedures is the surest way to prevent any problems.

More commonly, people find out they’re allergic to some dental materials, including composite fillings. That makes it so much more important that you give your dentist a complete medical history before proceeding with any dental procedure.

The IAOMT suggests that you get a biocompatibility test performed to help choose the right composite filling. A simple blood test can help you identify which brand of composite resin is less likely to trigger an allergic reaction.

Finding a Holistic Dentist for Mercury-Free Fillings

After reading about the dangers of mercury amalgam fillings, you may be wondering, “Who’s the best holistic dentist near me?”

Whether you’re seeking a biological dentist for amalgam removal or looking for mercury-free fillings for your child, finding a holistic dentist in the bay area will naturally lead you to the area’s top practitioners.

Dr. Sheila Dobee and her team provide a wide range of family and cosmetic dental services, including mercury-free fillings. You can make your appointment today with complete confidence that Your Caring Dentist is up-to-date with the safest materials and most advanced methods. Contact us for your first visit to learn more.

Do you have an opinion on mercury-free filings? Tell us about it in the comments!

Featured Image: CC0 by renatalferro, via Pixabay

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