The FDA has deemed them harmless, but concern over the safety of amalgam dental fillings — those silver-colored fillings that contain a mixture of liquid mercury and a powdered silver, tin, and copper alloy — persists. Here’s what you should know.

 

Few dental health issues have gotten more attention recently than mercury dental fillings, commonly called “silver” or amalgam fillings.

In a statement released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2009, these dental fillings, which contain mercury along with other metals, were pronounced safe for most adults and children over 6 years of age.

However, in December 2010, an FDA advisory panel of scientists and other dental health experts met again to review the safety information of amalgam fillings. The panel upheld the 2009 ruling, but it also urged the FDA to continue to review and evaluate their safety, suggesting the issue still isn’t definitively settled.

Since then, a whole lot of confusion has ensued. Many people are wondering: Are my fillings really safe?

The History of Mercury Dental Fillings

Mercury dental fillings have been the mainstay of cavity fillings for more than 150 years. These dental fillings are a mixture of roughly half liquid mercury and half a combination of silver, tin, and copper.

The reason that amalgam fillings are ideal is that they are soft and malleable. “Mercury is the binding agent that holds the other metals in the amalgam together,” says Vincent C. Mayher, DMD, past president of the Academy of General Dentistry. “When manipulating the material to place in the tooth, dentists can sculpt the filling so that it fits properly and ensures that the patient’s bite is correct.”

But Are Mercury Fillings Risky?

Why are there concerns over amalgam fillings? Because of their mercury content.

Critics believe that mercury dental fillings may cause neurological problems in fetuses and young children. “The concern centers on the health effects of toxicity or allergy that may be associated with mercury exposure, particularly as a potential cause of chronic illnesses, autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, birth defects, oral lesions, and mental disorders,” says Jeffrey Gross, DDS, an associate clinical professor at the Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine in Cleveland.

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