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The overwhelming majority of adults in the United States have dental fillings, and a good portion of those fillings are made of metal amalgam – a mixture of mercury, tin, copper, silver and other metals. You can thank metal amalgam fillings for the shiny tinge of silver that peaks through when you give a wide smile. These metal amalgam fillings typically last 10 to 15 years, given the natural wear and tear of chewing and drinking, though some may hold out longer. When metal fillings reach the end of their lifespan, it’s important that they be replaced, so that cavities don’t become exposed and teeth aren’t subject to cracking, damage, or decay.
If you’ve had metal fillings for more than 15 years, you may want to evaluate their condition and ensure that they’re in good shape to stay in your mouth. While your dentist will be able to tell you with certainty when it’s time to get a filling replaced, you may be able to pick up on some clues yourself that it’s time for a visit to the dentist.
Metal fillings should be replaced when they show visible signs of deterioration. You may notice that your dental fillings appear to be chipped, cracked, or display poor margins – common among fillings made of metal amalgam. Unlike other types of fillings, metal amalgam fillings do not reinforce the strength of the teeth, which means that when placed within the cusps of a tooth, it’s not uncommon to see teeth fracture as a result of the metal placement.
Sometimes these metal fillings can also include mercury, which, in high doses, is harmful to human health. Given what we know about mercury today, many may wonder: do the low levels of mercury exposure from a metal filling warrant a replacement? The FDA believes that fillings with mercury are safe for adults and children above the age of six. The World Health Organization also states that there aren’t any studies published that show the adverse health effects of metal amalgam fillings, and the American Dental Association does support the use of the material. Unless there are accompanying signs of filling deterioration or damage to the teeth, the simple presence of mercury in your fillings likely isn’t a reason to request a replacement.
You may also wonder if it’s time for a replacement given that metal fillings aren’t as popular as they once were. Most dentists now opt for composite fillings (a mixture of plastic and glass) because they’re more durable and can serve as a more aesthetically pleasing solution, as they’re the color of natural teeth. Composite fillings are also bonded to the tooth (unlike a metal filling), which means that they can help strengthen weak teeth. However, just because you have metal fillings rather than composite fillings, it doesn’t mean you need to get your metal fillings replaced. If your metal fillings are in good shape and aren’t affecting the health of your teeth, it’s best to just leave them be.
For an evaluation of your old metal fillings or for a regular cleaning, schedule an appointment with Allegiance Dental Associations online or call (410) 670-3376!
Daniel Hoch, DDS
Allegiance Dental Associates
2021 A Emmorton Road, Suite 222
Bel Air, Maryland 21015