Amalgam fillings are strong and functional, but should you now be looking to choose white fillings instead?
The use of mercury in traditional amalgam fillings has long been a matter of debate amongst patients. One reason for this is the safety concerns some have and which we will discuss shortly.
This is not the only reason though, and our Bedford dentists take a look at some of the main reasons that people are changing to alternatives below.
The ‘safety’ factor
By far the most talked about reason for avoiding amalgam dental fillings is that mercury is used in their production. This is a toxic substance which can cause a number of serious health issues so this is perhaps not surprising. The reality however, is that many studies have been carried out that have shown amalgam fillings to be safe in this form.
Although more recent studies have found that mercury can be released in vapour form as the amalgam fillings wears away, this is in such small quantities that it should have no ill effects on the person involved. It is worth remembering that we all absorb some mercury from the air, water and soil during our daily lives. Again, in most cases, this will be in such small quantities as to cause no harm. The official position of the UK legislators at this point in time is that amalgam fillings are safe, albeit there is a recognition that phasing-out will be beneficial for various reasons.
There is a good reason that amalgam fillings have been used for a long time in that they are strong and very durable. For many years, no other alternative was deemed suitable for anything other than the smallest fillings. This has now changed, and suitable alternatives are available as we shall see later.
The other main reason that people are gradually turning from traditional fillings is that they are unsightly. They may be strong, but a dark coloured filling is very visible. Where larger fillings are placed on the rear teeth, a common place for decay, they can often be seen when the person laughs out loud. An amalgam filling on a front tooth would be very visible indeed.
Amalgam fillings are now being gradually phased out. This is not because of any published safety issue for the patient, but the use of mercury in these fillings is finding its way into the environment. Whilst this causes no immediate ill effect, the relevant bodies have decided that, as dental fillings are contributing to this, and as alternatives are now available, it is time to gradually phase out their use.
What are the alternatives?
At The Dental Centre Bedford, we regularly use white cosmetic fillings to restore teeth that have decayed or have broken. Whilst these have been used for some time in smaller fillings, they have generally been considered to have insufficient strength for larger ones. This is no longer the case and cosmetic fillings can be used for significantly larger repairs than before, with a strength almost equivalent to amalgam. Where a cavity is too large, and on a tooth that is used for chewing and grinding, onlays or inlays may be used instead.
What are white fillings made from?
White fillings are made from resin and glass particles, with a setting agent. They can be made to match the colour of your natural teeth, making the filling blend in exceptionally well. White fillings have a number of advantages over amalgam, and not just the visual aspect. Using these resin based fillings means that less of the natural tooth has to be removed in order to place them. Unlike amalgam, which requires the tooth to be shaped in a certain way, white fillings bond well to the remaining natural part of the tooth, typically with less preparation required.
Amalgam fillings can also shrink a little over time. This leaves small gaps around them and decay in this area is quite common. As white fillings don’t shrink to the same degree so subsequent decay is less likely.
One question that we are sometimes asked is whether amalgam fillings should be replaced if you already have them. From a health perspective, there is no need and you are not in danger from them. From an aesthetic perspective, some patients of The Dental Centre Bedford may wish to do this. If you would like to discuss this with us, we will be pleased to offer our professional advice so that you can make an informed decision.
We are always happy to discuss patient’s requirements when it comes to having a more attractive smile and whilst healthy teeth and gums should be a priority, great looking teeth can bring real benefits too. With the help of the wide range of cosmetic dental treatments that we have available at our Bedford practice, we are confident that we will be able to help.
To arrange a consultation to see a dentist about white fillings or any other treatment, please call The Dental Centre Bedford on 01234 819868.