For over a hundred years, amalgam fillings — also called silver fillings or metal fillings — were standard fare for dentists treating cavities. These fillings are made from a mixture of metals, including elemental mercury. Debates have been raging since the 1850s over whether or not amalgam fillings are safe, and now that fillings are available, you may be asking yourself which choice is smarter if you have a cavity of your own to deal with.

Metal Fillings: Unsafe, or Just Unattractive?

A History of Amalgam Controversy

Amalgam fillings have a long history, being used as early as the Tang Dynasty in China, and becoming popular in the early 1800s across Europe and in the United States. Of course, it didn’t take long for the controversy to start.

A group of dentists in New York used a cheap amalgam (alongside other questionable dental practices) to treat cavities for a few years, until the composite fillings began to fail, resulting in public outcry and a sharp divide in the dental community. Ever since then the debates have continued, including concerns over mercury poisoning, filling expansion, and even an increased likelihood of autoimmune disorders.

This has spurred a large number of studies and research initiatives aimed at determining the real risks of amalgam fillings. Despite the ongoing debates, many studies have ultimately found that amalgam fillings are safe and reliable, and pose no statistically significant risk for adults and children over the age of six. Unless you have a metal allergy, amalgam fillings are probably a fine option. 

However, concern about the health of the fillings has inspired many governments to enact partial bans of mercury fillings. In Europe, there is a partial ban on metal amalgam fillings, meaning they can’t be used for children under the age of 16 and pregnant or nursing mothers. In the US, a similar ban has been proposed, but not enacted. Australia has recognized the principle, but not enacted laws to that effect.

Another concern is the environmental pollution caused by mercury use, including fillings. The international Minamata Convention asks countries to voluntarily reduce mercury pollution. This includes phasing out metal amalgam fillings. Australia has signed the treaty, but not ratified it. Here at My Hills Dentist our patients overall well-being has always been important. This is why we have never used amalgam.

Why Composite Fillings?

So if amalgam fillings are so great, why are composite fillings becoming the first choice for so many dentists and patients? The answer may have more to do with aesthetics than safety. After all, amalgam and composite fillings have similar lifespans and similar durability. Plus, amalgam fillings are less expensive, making them a popular pick for people who are dealing with decay on a budget. However, an amalgam filling is dark and visible, while composite fillings can perfectly match the rest of the tooth. (That’s why they’re often called white fillings, or tooth-colored fillings.)

If you have concerned about the attractiveness of your smile, an amalgam filling can create a dark spot that shows when you smile or speak, giving the impression of a flawed (or worse, unclean) mouth. A composite filling, on the other hand, is virtually indistinguishable from your natural teeth.

Of course, some people already have amalgam fillings darkening their smile. If you have an old amalgam filling that you’d like to replace with an attractive new composite filling, we can help.

Whether you need a brand new filling or are hoping to improve upon your old ones, you need an experienced cosmetic dentist right here in Sydney. Just call (02) 9686 7375 or contact us online to make an appointment and learn more.