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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dental Amalgam Dangerous? (Silver Fillings)

Once again, dental amalgam (silver filling) is in the news. Last week on NBC's Evening News with Brian Williams, they ran a story about the FDA's concerns about amalgam fillings and the possible risks of the mercury content.

Personally, I have not used silver amalgam in my practice since around 1994. I believe it is simply an inferior material to a well-placed bonded composite (white) filling. White fillings are the standard at Palm Beach Smiles (click to learn more).  The teeth in the photos below belong to my wife.  :-)

Silver amalgam starts off as a fine metal powder composed of silver, copper, and other metals which is mixed with a droplet of mercury. This forms a sort of paste which quickly hardens into a solid amalgam. Once hardened, the components are chemically locked together.

The concern is about the possibility of mercury release from those fillings in your mouth over time. There has been a LOT of controversy about this over literally 150 years. To date, no recognized scientific entity has determined that there are any negative health issues with amalgam fillings. And, I am inclined (so far) to believe that there are no real health issues with the mercury that is locked up in amalgam fillings. However, I am open to REAL scientific evidence to the contrary.

A far bigger source of mercury in our environment is from coal-burning electric plants that put tons of mercury in the atmosphere. That mercury ends up in the ground and water. You've probably heard about mercury concerns when it comes to eating fish.

Oddly enough, the government or regulatory bodies in some parts of the U.S. have deemed scrap amalgam as a hazardous waste. Meanwhile, some other government entities assure us it is safe for use in dentistry. So, it's against the law to put it in the garbage or landfills in some places. But, it's safe to put in your mouth? Things that make you go, "Hmmmmm."

Another thing that will make you go, "Hmmmm" is that the goverment is banning incandescent (traditional) light bulbs in favor of the so-called "green" compact fluorescent bulbs. Those are the "curly-cue" bulbs. And, they contain mercury. Click here to see what the EPA recommends if you drop and break one in your house! This is a clear illustration of the contradictory agendas we see, and it should definitely make you go, "hmmmmm."

Some countries around the world have restricted the use of amalgam. And, every so often, the notion of banning it in the United States comes up. And, so here we are again. I believe it will be banned eventually - possibly for the wrong reasons - But, it will be banned some day.

There are some valid concerns over banning it, however. Amalgam has some advantages over other materials. It's EASY to place. It's cheap. And, it WORKS.

By contrast, bonded composites require painstaking attention to detail to place them correctly. If meticulous technique is not used, they tend to fail catastrophically and quickly. They are more expensive in terms of material costs and time (to be meticulous). Most insurance plans do not pay for composite fillings. So, dentists who have patients depending on insurance will face financial concerns. Banning amalgam will put those people between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Fortunately, in my practice, I simply haven't had those issues in the 16 years I've been "amalgam-free." I've cultivated a practice based on what I would do for my own family rather than cater to insurance executives' and shareholders' interests.

I do not advocate the wholesale replacement of amalgams in order to prevent or treat any medical condition. And, I won't until credible scientific evidence supports the notion. However, I do understand that some patients do not want them in their mouths for a variety of reasons, including cosmetic concerns. "Silver" fillings are really BLACK fillings.  And, who wants that? 

Stay tuned, as I believe this will be an ongoing issue. And, please visit us at to keep up with what we're doing at Palm Beach Smiles.

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