What Is an Amalgam Tattoo?

An amalgam tattoo might sound like a new trend in body art, but this bluish-gray stain on the gums isn't decorative or intentional. Although amalgam tattoos might look concerning, they are generally harmless. Your dentist can confirm if a patch of discoloration on your gums might be something more serious.

What Causes Amalgam Tattoos?

The metal alloy known as dental amalgam is one of the strongest materials used in tooth fillings. Amalgam is approximately 50 percent mercury, with tin, zinc, copper and silver comprising the rest of the mixture. When the material spills onto the patient's gums during a dental procedure, it can leave behind a painless but permanent residue.

According to Brigham and Women's Hospital Division of Oral Medicine and Dentistry, the most common cause of amalgam tattoos is amalgam material falling onto gums while a dentist is applying or removing a filling. Alternatively, amalgam may fall into a tooth socket during an extraction or lodge in the area around the scar after a root canal treatment.

Signs of an Amalgam Tattoo

Amalgam tattoos are irregularly shaped patches on gum tissue that appear blue or dark gray. ScienceDirect explains that you're most likely to see one near the tooth where the amalgam was placed. However, you might see this gum discoloration elsewhere, such as on the roof of the mouth or the inner lining of the cheeks.

Amalgam is a common and safe substance for fillings in adults and children ages 6 and older, so amalgam tattoos should not cause any discomfort or show other symptoms. If you have a discolored area of gum tissue that's painful, swollen, bleeding or ulcerated, see your dentist immediately. A small biopsy can confirm the cause of any unusual symptoms.

Prevention and Treatment

Although amalgam tattoos usually do not disappear on their own, they don't require any treatment, says Brigham and Women's Hospital. If the mark is bothersome or in a noticeable part of the mouth like the inner lip, a dental surgeon can remove the discolored tissue.

If you're worried about developing an amalgam tattoo or have concerns about silver fillings, ask your dentist about alternative dental filling materials. Other options include composite resins that are shaded to match your tooth color, gold and porcelain.

An amalgam tattoo shouldn't cause concern unless it makes you feel self-conscious. If that's the case, speak to your dentist about whether it can be removed. If you have a patch of discolored gum tissue that's painful or causing other symptoms, see a dentist as soon as possible.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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What to Expect During a FILLING

  1. Local anesthesia – at the beginning of your filling procedure, you may be given local anesthesia to numb the area around the tooth.

  2. Tooth decay removal – then the dentist will cut through the enamel using a drill to remove any decay. After the dentist removes the decay, the dentist will shape the space to ready it for the filling.

  3. Etching – for a bonded filling your dentist will etch the tooth with an acid gel before placing the filling.

  4. Resin application – for certain types of fillings the dentist will layer on the resin and harden it using a bright light. This makes it strong.

  5. Polishing – after the filling has been placed, your dentist will polish the tooth.