Amalgam is the name of a dental cavity filling material. It was once widely used in dental offices across the country. More recently, safer filling materials have been developed.

Amalgam is a mixture of several metals. It contains about half mercury. Other metals commonly included are silver and tin. Amalgam compound fillings are sometimes called silver fillings, although they are never made of pure silver.

Amalgam fillings pose a possible health threat due to their mercury content. Mercury can be released into the patient’s system from the amalgam filling. The exact consequences of this release isn’t known, but mercury is definitely a deadly poison. It causes nerve damage and other bodily injury. It also pollutes the environment.

Amalgam fillings are also a cause of tooth breakage. This is because mercury is very sensitive to temperature changes. That’s why it was used in older oral thermometers. The tiny ball of mercury at the bottom of the thermometer would respond to the heat in the patient’s mouth, causing the indicator to rise in the tube, giving a measurement of body temperature.

The same thing occurs within a tooth with an amalgam filling. Think about the vastly different temperatures of the food and drink you consume every day. You bite into a hot food item and then wash it down with an icy drink. You may drink very hot coffee or tea. Maybe you adore ice cream. The mercury in an amalgam filling responds to these temperature changes by expanding and contracting. Over time, this seesaw of pressure can cause a tooth to crack and break. Another common cause of tooth breakage is chewing ice. Avoid that activity entirely.

A broken tooth will always require at least a crown to repair it. Depending on the amount of root involvement and damage, a root canal may also be needed.

If you’re a younger person, you may not have any amalgam fillings, but if you’re somewhat older, it’s likely that you do. If the filling looks silvery, then it’s amalgam. More recent filling materials tend to be tooth-colored.

Your dentist can usually remove an amalgam filling and replace it with another, safer material. It’s a simple procedure that can save you pain and expense in the future. If you’re concerned about dental mercury and other problems with amalgam fillings, speak to your dentist as soon as possible.

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