In recent years, the mercury used in amalgam fillings, as well as other products, has come under much controversy. We all know, by now, that there has been much discussion of the possibility of the mercury in thimerosol, which has been used as a vaccine preservative, as a possible cause of childhood autism. There has also been a discussion that the mercury vapor released by amalgam dental fillings could also be a health danger. According to the FDA website: “Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses. When amalgam fillings are placed in teeth or removed from teeth, they release mercury vapor.”
Mercury is one of the most dangerous, non-radioactive, metals known to man. It can cause neurological damage and well as damage to the kidneys. Especially vulnerable are children under 6, pregnant and lactating women, and people who are especially sensitive to mercury. Some people believe that the mercury in amalgam fillings may be a factor in such conditions as Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and possibly even Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, some people report an improvement in their health after they have had their amalgam fillings removed and replaced by composite fillings.
Although the American Dental Association (ADA) acknowledges the controversy over amalgam fillings, they are of the belief that these fillings remain safe. According to the ADA website: amalgam fillings have been “used by dentists for more than a century, dental amalgam is the most thoroughly researched and tested restorative material among all those in use. It is durable, easy to use, highly resistant to wear and relatively inexpensive in comparison to other materials. For those reasons, it remains a valued treatment option for dentists and their patients.”
Composite fillings are a combination of quartz or glass material in a resin base. Composite materials do not contain mercury. Usually much less tooth structure needs to be removed for a successful composite filling. A major advantage is that it is tooth colored and can be used for restorations in front teeth. Some dentists are concerned that it is not quite as durable as an amalgam filling for back teeth that would receive a lot of chewing trauma.
A major factor in the continued use of amalgam fillings is that they cost much less than composite fillings. (It's always about cost, isn't it.) Most insurance companies will only pay up to the cost of an amalgam filling.
According to CBS News, Norway and Sweden have already issued restrictions on amalgam fillings, and it looks like the U.S. FDA now recognizes some of the health risks associated with these fillings. CBS news states: “As part of a legal settlement, the federal agency has agreed to release a new ruling on the safety of dental amalgams in July 2009, and alert consumers about potential related hazards.” This is good news for U.S. citizens. The FDA will be studying the safety and efficacy of amalgam fillings and may be making recommendations as to labeling controls.