Baby boomers beware! What you have been told all these years
about silver fillings may not be all they are cracked up to be.
Truth is, it may be time to retire those old silver fillings,
also known as amalgams.
Post WWII children grew up in an era in which there was a high
consumption of sugar-laden foods. Foods like your favorite
cereal, sodas, candy bars and desserts. The amount of sugar
filled foods for that generation and the current generation
is staggering. Additionally, during this period the tooth
strengthening benefits of fluoridated water were still
These two factors combined were a major contributing factor to
reception rooms of every dentist office in America overflowing
with unsuspecting patients. Unsuspecting in that the solution
dentistry provided for all of these teeth pitted with cavities
and resembling the surface of the moon was an inexpensive silver
tooth patch invented in 1894.
Most people were led to believe that silver fillings were
actually good for them. Unfortunately, when the dentist patted
you on the head, sent you on your way with your lip hanging off
of your face and a shiny toy ring in your pocket, he or she
failed to tell you, "Oh by the way, your shiny new teeth are
packed with mercury and they are going to wear out someday.
Only next time there won't be a pretty ring in your pocket,
just a hefty bill."
Why Do Fillings wear Out?
Several factors cause the demise of amalgam restoration. Size,
personal hygiene, and diet seem to have the greatest influence
on their life expectancy. When a tooth is filled, amalgam is
packed into a hole created by bacteria and your dentist's drill.
The bigger the hole, the larger the filling used to repair the
damage is and the weaker a tooth becomes. Weaker teeth are
doomed to fracture because a large filling acts like a wedge,
similar to a wedge used to split firewood.
Chewing even soft foods wears the surface of each filling and
intensifies the wedging. Hard foods like Corn Nuts and ice wreak
havoc on your teeth and should be completely avoided. Acids found
in citrus products, coffee, cola products, and foods containing
sugar cause the surface of the filling to become rusted and pitted,
like a rusty old tin can.
The Truth About Mercury
There are two primary areas to consider regarding mercury. One
is how pliable a material it is. The other is how toxic it is.
Mercury is placed in thermometers for a reason; it is very
sensitive to temperature change. Even a two degree difference
will register on a thermometer due to the mercury expanding.
With mercury being as much as 55% of the substance in an amalgam
filling, imagine what that is doing to your tooth structure.
Incredibly it seems that temperature fluctuation in the foods
we eat cause the most dramatic breakdown effects in the teeth.
When we eat hot or cold foods our fillings expand and contract
more than the teeth they are placed inside. Since these fillings
are packed tightly into the tooth there is absolutely no room
A can of soda pop placed in a freezer provides an example of
two materials expanding at different rates, left long enough
and it will explode. Although not as dramatic, the pressures
associated with changing mouth temperatures does create
microscopic fractures in your teeth, similar to cracks in the
windshield of a car. These cracks continue to grow and provide
a convenient hiding place for cavity causing bacteria. Even the
best brushing and flossing techniques are little match for this
type of cavity, and left untreated they can cause large portions
of your tooth to break.
Many people don't realize that the mercury in your silver
fillings just happens to be number two on the list of the most
toxic elements known to man. In California all Amalgam
manufacturers, as of December 1993, must display the following
Warning! This Office uses amalgam filling materials, which
contain and expose you to Mercury, a chemical known to the state
of California to cause birth defects and other reproductive harm.
Please consult your dentist for more information.
Some countries have actually banned the use of mercury altogether.
In the United States dentists cannot just throw old mercury down
the sink. They have to treat it like the toxic waste it is.
Fortunately there are now alternatives to silver fillings. New
types of replacements have revolutionized dental care. Tooth
colored restorations made out of porcelain or plastic can be
safely bonded (glued) into place creating a much stronger and
more stress resistant chewing surface.
However, there is a downside. Be prepared to pay a little more
for these types of restorations because the materials used are
more expensive and more difficult for your dentist to place.
Also, don't be surprised if your insurance company saddles you
with more of the share of the additional fees. It may take years
for them to discover how long term benefits of bonded fillings
outweigh the increase of up front costs.
The question you must ask yourself in any health decision you
make is, "What is my health worth?" Your answer will help you
find your own silver lining while maintaining a safe, healthy
and beautiful smile.
About The Author
Dr. Scott Kiser has been practicing general dentistry in Salt
Lake City, Utah for over 20 years. Dr. Kiser has used only
mercury-free substances in his treatments since the mid 90s
and concentrates his practice in the areas of sedation dentistry
and complete smile makeovers. Consumer Research Council of
America selected him as Utah's Top Cosmetic Dentist of 2003-04.