How important is it that I see a mercury-free dentist?

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I have one really old silver filling and I heard that you are supposed to see a mercury-free dentist to get them replaced. It’s about 20 years old and honestly it doesn’t bother me. In the research I’ve done (depending on the source) it sounds like it is important to get them removed because it’s bad for your health. Is this true? Or is it a tactic to market the new tooth-colored filling instead?

-Jackie in Washington


The first thing that needs to be said is that the American Dental Association and the Food and Drug Administration state that silver (amalgam) fillings are safe. However, there are other organizations that have performed studies which link them to certain health issues. Historically, dentists used amalgam because it is a strong material that doesn’t require much tooth structure to be removed to place them.

Even though the stance of regulatory agencies is that these fillings are okay, we do know that they can release small amounts of mercury into the body. That is where the health risk comes in. It is unclear just how much mercury is released over the lifetime of an amalgam filling. Therefore, the link has been made that amalgam fillings may cause health issues.

photo of amalgam, silver fillingsMercury-free dentists will recommend amalgam be replaced with composite fillings because they deteriorate as they age too. For example, they can leak, which enables food and bacteria to get between the filling and the tooth. This results in tooth decay under the filling. So, if you are concerned with the age of the filling, it would be a good idea to have it checked out to avoid complications down the road. It doesn’t sound like the aesthetic look of the filling matters too much to you. But, for the sake of taking care of the tooth underneath it, you may decide that replacement is the best option for you.

The fact is that nobody really knows how long a person must be exposed to the mercury in these fillings before they start experiencing problems. And like we mentioned above, we don’t know how much each filling releases over time.

Ultimately, it is a personal choice. Thank you for your question.

This post is sponsored by a cosmetic dentist in Lexington, KY, Hamburg Expressions.