English: Mercury filling on first molar, shown...

Silver filling on the first molar

Go in front of a mirror, and open your mouth. If you see a silver filling on one of your teeth,  you may want to continue reading.


Amalgam, also known as “silver fillings,” is a type of restorative material used to fill cavities. Although it is commonly called a silver filling, it only contains up to 32% of silver. What concerns most people is not how little silver there is in amalgam, but rather its content of a hazardous heavy metal, namely mercury.


A typical amalgam contains about 50% mercury. For a person who has many cavities filled by amalgam, his can have more than one gram of mercury in his mouth. That is equivalent to the mercury content of 250 florescent light bulbs! So you want to ask, why do we still use it? The research results on how much mercury vapor is released by amalgam is inconsistent, and the effect of exposure is also being disputed. Additionally, amalgam has several advantages over other filling materials. For example, amalgam filling lasts two times longer than composite raisin, and it is seven times less likely to require repair or replacement. It is also antibacterial and easier to apply. Due to these properties and relatively low cost, many dentists in the U.S. still use them on patients.


There is also an environmental concern. When handled poorly, amalgam gets flushed down the drain in dental offices, which contributes to 40% of the mercury pollution in sewage system. When the deceased people are being cremated, almost all of the mercury in amalgam is vaporized and released into the atmosphere. While the effect of amalgam on patients is uncertain, it is definitely hazardous to the environment.


The use of amalgam remains one of the biggest controversy in dentistry. Now you are aware of the potential danger of amalgam, it is left for you to decide if you want it in your cavity. But if you are environmentally responsible as you should, remind your dentist not to use amalgam on your next visit.


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