Silver-colored tooth fillings, known as dental amalgam fillings, contain a mixture of metals, including mercury. If you have one of these, you may be concerned about your mercury exposure and wonder if you need a mercury detox. Here are the facts on mercury exposure and dental amalgam fillings.
What Is Dental Amalgam?
The metal alloy known as dental amalgam is one of the strongest and sturdiest materials used in tooth fillings, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Amalgam is approximately 50% mercury, with tin, copper and silver comprising the rest of the mixture. This type of filling is also known as a "silver filling" because of its silver-like appearance. Dentists have been using amalgam in fillings for more than 150 years in hundreds of millions of patients around the world.
Is Dental Amalgam Safe?
If you have one of these fillings, there's no need to worry. The FDA has determined that the low levels of mercury vapor emitted by dental amalgam fillings are safe for adults and children ages 6 and older.
While it's possible that the developing neurological systems in fetuses and young children may be more sensitive to the effects of mercury vapor, the FDA found little to no clinical data regarding any long-term health effects of mercury on pregnant women, developing babies or children under the age of 6. Further, the amount of mercury found in the breast milk of mothers with amalgam fillings falls well below the safe levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency, and there is no evidence that a mother's metal fillings will harm their breastfeeding infant.
Although amalgam fillings are safe for the vast majority of patients, some individuals may have an allergy or sensitivity to either mercury or one of the other metal components of dental amalgam. This may cause these individuals to develop lesions in their mouths or other side effects. In these cases, the FDA notes that dental professionals should use alternative materials.
Sources of Mercury Exposure
There are three different types of mercury: elemental, inorganic and organic. As the National Institutes of Health (NIH) outlines, elemental mercury — which is the kind used in amalgam fillings — is also used in thermometers, electrical switches, fluorescent light bulbs and some medical equipment. Inorganic mercury may be found in batteries, chemistry labs and some disinfectants. Organic mercury can be found in older antiseptic formulas, fumes from burning coal and fish that have eaten a form of organic mercury called methylmercury.
Treating Mercury Poisoning
While the level of mercury exposure from dental fillings isn't a threat to your health, there are other circumstances where individuals may experience mercury poisoning. The NIH reports that breathing in a large amount of elemental mercury can, in some circumstances, lead to a hospital stay.
According to the NIH, symptoms you could experience from excessive mercury exposure include:
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Difficulty breathing
- Bad cough
- Swollen, bleeding gums
- Burning in the throat and stomach
- Bloody diarrhea
To diagnose mercury poisoning, a medical professional may take blood or urine tests, as well as respiratory and blood pressure measurements. There are various methods a doctor can use to help a patient detox after mercury poisoning, and your treatment will differ depending on the type of exposure. Some treatment methods include consuming charcoal, receiving intravenous fluids or having the mercury suctioned out of the lungs.
If you suspect that you may have mercury poisoning, go to your local emergency room. However, if you don't have mercury poisoning symptoms and are simply worried about a dental amalgam filling, rest assured that it is not a source of mercury poisoning and does not require a mercury detox. If your filling is broken or defective, your dentist can also help you find a solution.