Are Mercury Dental Fillings Safe?

A few people are allergic to dental amalgam, but mercury in fillings has not been shown to harm health.

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My daughter is concerned that mercury from fillings slowly leaks into the body, possibly causing autoimmune problems and cancers. She also fears that removing them may pose even greater health dangers. Is she right?

Judith Palfrey, M.D.

Mercury can pose a serious risk to our health, and your daughter is right to ask questions such as this. Fortunately, though, Man Wai Ng has offered the following information, which should ease her concerns and provide her with current information about the very low risk of health effects of mercury from dental amalgam. Ng is the chief of pediatric dentistry at Children's Hospital Boston.

There are several types of materials used in dental fillings. Newer "white" polymer resin materials do not contain any metals or mercury. "Silver" filling or dental amalgam contains mercury and several metals, including silver, tin, and copper. The mercury in amalgam chemically binds with the other metals, which makes it stable and safe to use in dental applications.

Dental amalgam has been used for over 150 years to restore decayed teeth. There has been no clinical evidence in humans that dental amalgam has caused harmful health effects, although a very small number of people are allergic to amalgam. The U.S. Food and the Drug Administration (FDA) considers dental amalgam to be safe to use.

During chewing and tooth grinding, very low levels of mercury vapor may be released from the amalgam in the mouth that can be inhaled. Although high levels of mercury vapor exposure are associated with adverse effects in the brain and the kidneys, the amount of mercury measured in the bodies of people with dental amalgam fillings is well below levels associated with adverse health effects. In actuality, daily amounts of mercury from non-dental sources, such as from food, water, and air, exceeds the very small amount released from amalgam fillings.

Removing amalgam fillings that are in good condition in teeth with no decay below the fillings is not recommended. Removing sound amalgam fillings may result in unnecessary loss of healthy tooth structure and exposure to additional mercury vapor released during the removal process.

Many dentists consider amalgam to be the material of choice in particular circumstances. We advise you and your daughter to share her concerns with her dentist. If additional dental fillings are needed in the future, discuss with her dentist the available choices for filling materials, along with their risks and benefits.

Health Advice Disclaimer: The information provided on this website is for the general information of the reader and to help patients become better informed to consult with their own physician. It does not constitute a doctor-patient relationship, and it is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You should not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating… Read more >>