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Are Your Fillings Safe?

Are Your Fillings Safe?
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BY KITT WALSH

For those of us over 50, unless we’ve had our old fillings replaced, our mouths shine with enough silver to rival the moon. For the last century and a half, Americans’ cavities have been plugged with what are known as amalgam fillings and that filling material has one ingredient that has caused (and is causing) endless controversy: Mercury.

According to the American Dental Association, the use of these amalgam fillings has dropped 30 percent in the last decade, but that still leaves us Boomers with millions of these fillings. Are they in fact dangerous—dangerous enough for us to undergo getting them removed and replaced with cheaper (and more attractive) composite material?

There is no definitive answer. Everyone agrees Mercury is a neurotoxin, but the amount used in fillings has been deemed safe for adults (except pregnant women) by the FDA.

But some dentists believe that putting any Mercury that close to the brain, especially in a form that lasts in the body for years, is not a good idea. Some doctor’s are convinced that the Mercury adds to the risk of Alzheimer’s. Still others say if we have to dispose of the Mercury in our new light bulbs as though we were a Hazmat team, it is nothing we want to put into our bodies—no matter how small the amount.

The risk of harm from amalgam fillings has not been proven and some dentists recommend that a person with concerns should be tested for heavy metals in their system before having such amalgam filling’s removed. The testing is less invasive than the removal.

What does getting those amalgam fillings removed merit you?

Some people who have such fillings removed report an increase in concentration, a decrease in fatigue, more restful sleep and an increase in energy. If you are worried about the danger of Mercury vapor in your body, then removal also gains you peace of mind.

On the con side of getting the amalgam fillings removed, there is increased tooth sensitivity, possible nerve damage during the removal (resulting in future root canals,) less sound tooth structure (the more you mess with a tooth, the weaker it gets,) increased release of Mercury vapors during the removal and the cost—which can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

But if there is even a slight risk, why do dentists still use amalgam fillings?

Three reasons mostly. They last longer, they are affordable and they take less time to install. Composite resin or glass ionomer fillings (the non-amalgam choices) are often less durable (amalgams last 20 years before causing teeth to possibly fracture, composites may last only five or ten years and then teeth may show redecay) require more of the natural tooth to be sacrificed, cost 20% more (and may not be covered by dental insurance) and they are hard to use on back teeth and any teeth that are hard to keep dry during the procedure. Also some dentists point out that composite material is the “devil we don’t know.” It being a relatively new technology, no one is yet sure of the health dangers the composite material may present down the road.

Proponents of composites believe amalgam is only being kept on the market because insurance companies only agree to pay only for the cheaper material, meaning the majority of patients really have little choice in the matter. Their decision is dictated by economics.

Conversely, there are plenty of dentists who believe amalgams are perfectly safe and that the dangers are being exaggerated by greed. Composites (and replacing amalgam fillings with them) are just a way for dentists to pocket more cash.

So, what to do? Make sure your dentist discusses all treatment options with you, including advantages and disadvantages, longevity of the material currently in your mouth (or that the dentist is proposing putting in your mouth) and any possible problems. Discuss his or her opinion of composites and their cost. Make sure your dentist is clear with you about what any dental insurance you have may or may not cover. (Call to discuss this with your insurance company if you have any questions or to seek pre-approval of any procedure.) Then make an informed choice and, no matter which you choose, keep smiling.

 

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