Ask Our Essex Dentist – Mercury Use In Fillings

A patient asks about the aesthetic and safety aspects of amalgam fillings.

Today’s question comes from a patient of the Cygnet Dental Practice who has been told that he needs his first filling, and wants to know more about the options available.

Q. Hi .. I’ve just turned 18 and have been told that I need to have a fairly small filling in one of my teeth. Amazingly perhaps, it’s the first one that I have had. My brother, on the other hand has had several and I really don’t like the look of them. I have also heard that they might be dangerous. Could you explain please .. thanks.

Hello and first of all, congratulations on getting to 18 before you need a filling. Whilst there is no reason that this shouldn’t happen; sadly, many people have quite a few fillings by your age.

With regards to the fillings themselves; I am guessing that the ‘danger’ part that you have heard about is the use of mercury in the amalgam fillings that are commonly used. Whilst it is true that mercury is a toxic substance in liquid form; when solid, as is the case in amalgam fillings, it is considered to be safe. The British Dental Association has backed its continuing use in the UK, whilst at the same time, agreeing to work for a gradual reduction in its use. If you would like to read more about their statement, you can read it at https://www.bda.org/amalgam .

The other issue that you mention about these fillings is their appearance. It is true that amalgam is a dark colour, being made from a combination of metals. This is unavoidable and it has been used for many years due to its strength. To date, aside from very expensive gold tooth fillings, no material has been shown to be stronger than amalgam.

For many years, developers have been working to improve a new material which avoids the use of amalgam. These tooth coloured fillings have been available for a little while but have generally been used on teeth where minimal pressure is exerted as they lacked the strength of amalgam. The good news though is that, more recently, these have been improved and are now much stronger.

Newer types of tooth coloured fillings can even be used on the rear teeth which take a lot of pressure from chewing etc. However, it should be said that if the filling is a large one, alternatives such as onlays or inlays may well offer greater strength. From your question, it appears that your filing is relatively minor, and, if so, then I would imagine that a tooth coloured filling would be perfectly adequate. These can be made to match the shade of the rest of the tooth, making them almost invisible to others.

If you would like any further information prior to having the filling, please call our Essex dental practice on 01268 733078.