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Amalgam Fillings Versus Composite Fillings

By HERWriter
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For decades, the debate has raged over whether amalgam fillings are safe or not. As I researched many publications, each voicing a variety of opinions on this issue, it became very clear that the issue is not resolved on either side and very likely won’t be. My goal in presenting you this information is to educate you on them both.

One can never be too informed about what’s happening in any aspect of their treatment.

Amalgam “Silver” Fillings

Amalgam fillings have been used since the 1800s. Needless to say, the entire process of filling teeth has improved over the past decades including the ingredients used and the techniques dentist are trained in.

Traditionally, amalgam fillings have been made out of a mixture of elemental mercury (which comprises the bulk of the mixture), silver, tin, and copper. Some dentists may add other metals as well. Together, these metals form a very strong, durable bond. Mixed properly and adequately these other metals stabilize and keep the mercury “in check.” I will come back to this argument.

Because of the bond between these metals, amalgam fillings are perfect for restoring molars, where there are strong bite forces. The stronger the bite and the presence of any parafunctional habits (see: Damaging Dental Habits) usually mean that amalgam fillings will be the better choice.

Other advantages include:
- The combination of the metals in amalgam fillings are known to resist bacteria
- Amalgam fillings are easier to place and work with to adequately fill the space
- Less expensive than composite fillings
- Historically last longer than composite fillings

The disadvantages to amalgam fillings include:
- Short-term sensitivity to hot or cold (usually just after the filling is placed)
- They are very visible when laughing, smiling, or talking
- More drilling may be required

Composite Fillings

Composite fillings have seen increasing use since they were first introduced in the 1970s. Composite materials, from which inlays and other dental restorations are made, are usually a mixture of glass or quartz filler in a resin form. Once set, usually with the aid of a light device, this resin forms a durable surface resistant to fracture in most areas where there is moderate chewing pressure. Traditionally, composite fillings have been reserved for bicuspids (the tooth directly before the molars), where there is usually less bite force.

Other advantages include:
- Composite fillings are tooth colored and not noticeable
- Composite fillings do not contain any metals
- Composite fillings do not require as much preparation and drilling out of tooth material

The disadvantages include:
- Composite fillings traditionally have not lasted as long as amalgam fillings—although improvements in dental technologies have improved longevity significantly
- Composite fillings require more specific training in the techniques to provide an effective, aesthetically pleasing result
- Some earlier versions of composite fillings have actually been shown to encourage growth of microorganisms

The Debate

Many patients, health experts and holistic medicine practitioners have tried to create a definitive link between the presence of mercury in fillings and a variety of health issues—autism, kidney disease, heart disease, mercury poisoning. They have not been able to. From what I have read, it is highly unlikely that these conditions were the result of the presence of mercury in fillings exclusively.

The instruments generally used to measure mercury vapors in a person’s mouth—generally released through chewing with mercury fillings present—measure the amount of mercury vapor per cubic meter, a measurement significantly larger than the size of a person’s mouth.

Additionally, mercury is not actually absorbed into the body through the fillings. If exposure to mercury in this form happens at all it is usually through extended chewing, especially gum chewing, and it is in its vapor form. In that instance, it’s inhaled.

The elemental form that is used in fillings is different than the mercury contained in vaccines, and found in fish that we are usually warned about. It is not the exposure to the mercury in fillings alone that people could be reacting to. Exposure from all these sources can accumulate in the body and affect a person’s health. “Mercury’s toxicity is related to the amount absorbed.” (Canadian Dental Association) This is, in fact, corroborated by science. The more mercury that is absorbed, the stronger the effects on a person’s body.

According to Health Canada (similar statistics can be assumed for the U.S., as well), for the average Canadian adult aged 20-59 years, the amount of mercury absorbed from ALL sources per day measures about 9 micrograms (9 millionths of a gram). Of that amount, mercury in amalgam fillings accounts for 3 micrograms (3 millionths of a gram)—about 1/3 of a person’s total daily exposure.

Canadian researchers have examined patients and the ever-improving formulations of dental fillings for over 150 years and are confident that amalgam fillings are safe. Just the same, because of the controversy, the Canadian government and many other world governments are researching to find any alternatives.

One website posits the relationship between amalgam filling and mercury content this way: Elemental hydrogen is an explosive gas. Elemental oxygen is a gas that supports combustion. When combined, however, they form water, which has neither of these effects. Amalgam's ingredients are tightly bonded to each other…saying that amalgam will poison you is just as wrong as saying that drinking water will make you explode and burst into flames. (www.quackwatch.com)

The issue of whether or not dental amalgams are safe has to be viewed in light of the fact that while many patients claim their illnesses have been caused by mercury seepage from their fillings, there are still millions of other patients who have had these fillings placed and have had no adverse symptoms whatsoever. It may be that those particular patients who have experienced symptoms were genetically more “responsive” to this exposure to mercury than another person.

Consider, as well, how many dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants are exposed to these materials daily. While they need to follow safety precautions when mixing the ingredients—mixing technologies have also improved to ensure a more uniform blending of ingredients—when the fillings are applied, they appear over the dental chair with their normal mask and gloves, not in a Hazmat suit.

Whatever the debate, most agree that those with amalgam fillings should not have them all replaced with composite fillings. To replace new discoveries of tooth decay, it is always the patient’s choice whether or not to have amalgam fillings placed. Consider, too, that some dentists are not trained in the placement of composite fillings. On the flip side, some dentists may not even offer amalgam fillings because of the ongoing debate and deciding to err on the side of caution.

As a dental patient, you need to be aware of both sides of the argument, know the limitations of each type of filling, their advantages and disadvantages. Know that there are just as many arguments for as there are against amalgam fillings. Don’t take any one position at face value. Many of those opinions will have strong biases one way or the other (which is why I looked at more than just the ADA). Read the information out there and come up with your own conclusion. Ultimately, you, the patient, have the right to decide.

www.cda-adc.gc.ca (The Canadian Dental Association)
www.ada.org (American Dental Association)
www.hc-sc.gc.ca (Health Canada)

***I will say out of all the sources I read, of which these are just the major ones, the Canadian Dental Association and Health Canada had the most comprehensive response to the mercury debate.

Add a Comment12 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

It's detected that methyl mercury which in the content of amalgam can cause different cancers especially renal tumors in rats.

You can read "Mercury-Free Dentistry Campaign - http://www.toxicteeth.org ToxicTeeth.org"



September 9, 2013 - 5:32am
EmpowHER Guest

Another reason to not get amalgam fillings is that the metal expands and contracts with changes in temperature, say from drinking a cup of tea. Overtime, the constant expansion and contraction of the filling can weaken the tooth structure leading to the filling falling out or, in the worst case, fracturing the tooth. When contracting, it is possible that an amalgam filling can allow food particles to pass into the cavity, leading to additional and, potentially, initially undetectable decay. Composite fillings do not expand or contract and actually help restore the strength of the remaining tooth, whereas amalgam fillings, while apparently more durable, do not contribute to the strength of the tooth unless a bonding agent is used. Just something to consider.

I've had two composite fillings for the last 10-11 years and only just recently had to have the edges touched up on both, which is actually another benefit of composites - they can be restored.

December 2, 2009 - 5:47pm
EmpowHER Guest

The thing is, many, if not most, human disease is multifactorial. This means that it takes more than one factor to be present for the disease to show up. This is especially true with conditions such as heart disease and cancer. If you know that mercury can be a factor in the development of the disease, why take the chance that it will be your proverbial straw to break the camel's back?

All in all, though this is an interesting debate. You might want to check out www.americasholisticdentist.com, as I've found some good info there.

August 27, 2009 - 8:26pm
EmpowHER Guest

Great article and discussion - I learned a lot from reading this!

August 8, 2009 - 8:34am

Good point. Thank you for bringing that up. I thought I had already gone long enough with this article. Perhaps I will add that to my topic list for another time.

August 8, 2009 - 6:49am
EmpowHER Guest

This article does not examine the issue of "oral galvanism," which occurs when different metals in the mouth generate a small electric field. When these currents are present, they destabilize the "mix" of metals in the mouth, and mercury seeps out. This is why some get sick, and others do not. No galvanism, no mercury poisoning.
I had galvanism diagnosed by a Dentist, but did not understand what he was talking about. I never went back (he was very expensive) and developed almost every symptom of MS over a period of about 10 years. I could taste the same taste periodically that you taste after having a tooth filled. I had to have the gold crown removed, which was the source of the galvanism, and some of the severe symptoms immediately were resolved.
I then learned about how swallowing small amounts of mercury over a period of time will kill the good bacteria and cause a systemic fungal infection. I put myself on an "anti fungal" diet and many of the symptoms were brought under control.

August 8, 2009 - 6:16am
EmpowHER Guest

First of all, most dentists are not scientists. Dentists who have chemistry degrees are more likely to understand the danger of amalgam fillings. See http://www.mercurypoisoned.com/dr_frederick_smith_editorial.html to see an article published by a biological dentist and a Chemist from Lynchburg, VA who has been poisoned by mercury himself, and knows it is dangerous.

The position of Health Canada in 2006 is published at http://www.mercurypoisoned.com/health_canada.html. I copied it to my site before they had a chance to take it down. However, it is not being enforced in Canada because people there are being poisoned also.

From your quote, "Additionally, mercury is not actually absorbed into the body through the fillings. If exposure to mercury in this form happens at all it is usually through extended chewing, especially gum chewing, and it is in its vapor form. In that instance, it’s inhaled."

Mercury can be absorbed through the body. Neurosurgeon, Dr. Russell Blaylock says mercury vapors are absorbed through the soft palate and then travels through the olfactory nerve right into the brain. If you will contact me [email protected] I will send the author of this column some articles by a neurosurgeon who knows more about brain damage from heavy metals than do dentists.

People are exposed to mercury vapors up to 90 minutes after chewing, drinking hot liquids, having teeth cleaned, brushing teeth. To calm down the vapors one can drink a cold liquid.

But the greatest amount of exposure happens when a dentist drills out an old filling, and does not properly protect the patient from mercury vapor. The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology has developed protocols and equipment to use when old fillings need to be removed to reduce patients exposure to mercury vapor. www.iaomt.org

Not all these protocols and equipment are taught in dental schools simply because of archaic ideas that are promoted in dental school, and reflected in this column. People with low immune systems can not stand the additional exposure to mercury vapor during dental procedures and removing only one filling without protecting the patient from the vapor could put them over the edge and lead to poisoning since mercury is a bio accumulative toxicity.

I was poisoned because I was on an immune lowering drug prednisone after a bout with Bell's palsy. My dentist did not properly protect me from mercury vapor and then placed a toxic crown over top of a partially drilled out mercury filling. The metal in the base of the crown interacted with the mercury in the the filling, drawing out more of the mercury. Dissimilar metals in the mouth (metal crowns over mercury & other metals) set up a battery like effect which causes severe toxicity. Dentists call this oral galvanism, but the ADA plays it down and only calls it an allergy to metals. I tasted metal, was nauseated, and felt like I was dying.

When I had the toxic crown removed I tasted no more metal. I traveled 400 miles round trip for 5 visits to a safe biological dentist that protected me from mercury vapor. I went through a detoxification process and use many supplements in order to function. I see a holistic doctor who understands mercury toxicity. It happened to me in 2001, and I am still in the process of recovery.

Nine days after my dentist drilled into a mercury filling I woke up with my brain "on fire." I lost my memory, could not focus, developed chronic fatigue, sore muscles, food and chemical allergies, floaters in my eyes, tingling and numbness throughout my body. See my story at www.MercuryPoisoned.com/marie.html.

I am on the Board of DAMS, Dental Amalgam Mercury Solutions, Intl. and we help people find safe dentists who use special precautions, and explain how fillings should be safely removed. We teach the public to avoid toxic dentistry. www.amalgam.org

Dr. Boyd Haley, bio chemist, and former Chair of the University of Kentucky's chemistry department says, "Dentists are giving people neurological diseases every day."

Quackwatch has been discredited in courts. Just do a google search for quackwatch discredited.

August 7, 2009 - 2:32pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you for adding that information. Yours is obviously a case of a dentist not knowing what he was doing and not following the proper protocols--that's probably the cause of mercury poisoning and symptoms more so than the actual fillings. If he had done his job right there would have be a lot less exposure to you. And you're right it's not being taught in dental schools and organizations like the ADA don't seem "willing" to share stories like yours.

Sites like the www.amalgam.org are a valuable tool to those looking for alternative treatment methods.

I bring us back to the premise that patients need to educate themselves and ensure that their dentist is providing them the proper care. They need to know about these protocols and insist that they are followed and if they're not, they have the right get up and walk out and find a dentist who will.

Whatever the government of any country mandates, there is not going to be a police officer or health officer standing over every dentist taking notes on whether or not they're following the proper protocol. Some dentists may not even be aware of such protocols let alone are trained in it sufficiently to benefit they're patients.

That's what I hoped this article would do: 1) make people more aware of the issues of the debate; 2) make people take enough interest in it that they read more so they can make choices for their own health.

Thank you for sharing your story and providing these additional resources.

August 7, 2009 - 4:32pm

I'm just putting forward one argument that the mercury in amalgam fillings contributes only a fraction of daily overall exposure for the average person. There are thousands of dental patients who haven't experienced any difficulties associated with the exposure to mercury.

You can't just take one website and researcher at his/her word. The ADA has a strong bias for amalgam fillings, the site you mention has a strong bias against amalgam fillings. You can't just look at one source.

I looked at more than just these two sources to try to present a well-rounded argument on both sides.

August 7, 2009 - 11:10am
EmpowHER Guest

This is all very interesting but as you have noted there is a debate as to whether or not this is good for our bodies. I have found some interesting information regarding this debate and others at www.americasholisticdentist.com

August 7, 2009 - 10:47am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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