As much as we all try to keep our teeth clean, we sometimes find that our best efforts haven’t kept us completely safe from the damage caused by plaque and bacteria. A dental exam, or a nasty toothache, may tell us that bacterial acidity has weakened enamel and caused a cavity. In such a situation, it is important to know what to do. Do you get a silver filling, or do you choose the “cosmetic” option of a tooth-colored filling?
A Look Back
For most adults, the good old silver filling has always been good enough. Really, there has been very little argument against silver fillings, aka dental amalgam. This recently changed, and we have seen the conversation about amalgam and its overall value to modern-day dentistry heat up. What we call silver fillings is really a mixture of copper, tin, silver, and elemental mercury. They appear silver because they contain metal. However, it is estimated that half of each filling by weight is comprised of elemental mercury. It is this ingredient that binds the others together to form a strong, solid restoration. But there’s something we need to recognize here.
Sure, dental amalgam is strong. Some say that a silver filling can last decades. However, mounting scientific evidence is bringing into question the validity and safety of this material. Really, it is the presence of elemental mercury that has brought up concerns. This type of mercury is not form-stable. When it heats, which it does when you chew, mercury releases vapors into the mouth. The question is, what effect does mercury, a known toxin, have on the body? This is a long discussion, so we will move on to a more basic reason why our Houston office is amalgam free.
Amalgam contains metal. Metal is sensitive to temperature changes. When metal heats up, it expands. When it cools, it contracts. This is not something that we want inside of a tooth. It’s that simple.
The Amalgam Alternative
Did you know that amalgam fillings originated as an alternative? Before we had dental amalgam, dentists restored teeth with gold. The reason that amalgam was developed was because gold fillings were expensive (and a better choice). Today, we don’t have to choose amalgam or gold. Today, many patients have cavities filled with composite resin. If you think the reasoning is all cosmetic, you’d be mistaken.
Metal-free fillings mean:
- Optimal strength for long-term function. The bonding of composite material exponentially fortifies natural tooth structure.
- Preservation of natural tooth material. Amalgam cannot adhere to enamel. That means it has to be held in a tooth by the tooth. To accomplish mechanical retention, it is necessary to remove healthy tooth material.
- Less modification of the tooth means less drilling, which means a more pleasant procedure.