Metal Mouth: The harmful effects of mercury in fillings

3d rendered illustration of an amalgam filling
3d rendered illustration of an amalgam filling

Dental amalgam has been used in dentistry for more than 150 years. Many dentists use amalgams to fill cavities, which have used in hundreds of millions of patients. The main concern of dental amalgams lies in the fact that it contains mercury. While the FDA currently claims that the amount of mercury used in dental amalgam is safe, they admit that health risks exist. This article will help you to better understand what dental amalgams are and the potential health risks they pose. At Sunrise Dentistry, we offer safe alternatives to dental amalgams that are always mercury free.

What is Amalgam and Why is Mercury Used?

Dental amalgam is more commonly known as a silver filling; however, silver is only a small part of what makes up dental amalgam. 43-54% of dental amalgams are mercury, while other components include silver, tin, and copper with possible amounts of zinc, indium, and palladium.

Mercury is used in dental amalgams because it makes the material pliable. When mixed with an alloy powder, it is soft enough to press into the tooth. It also hardens quickly, can withstand biting and chewing, and lasts for 20+ years.   

Issues in Dentistry

Mercury in amalgam is considered harmless, and continues to be used daily in dentistry. However, many health issues can arise from amalgam. First off, mercury is a neurotoxin, which when used for fillings is placed one inch away from your brain. As the filling wears over time, small amounts of mercury can be released in the form of vapor. This can lead to mercury build up in body organs.

In 2010, the FDA warned against the use of amalgam within vulnerable populations. These populations include children, pregnant women in regards to the fetus, hypersensitive people, and people with kidney impairments. While low levels of mercury don’t cause ill effects, higher levels can result in anxiety, irritability, memory loss, headaches, and fatigue.


Other alternatives exist that do not contain mercury. These include composite resin, glass ionomer cement, porcelain, and gold. While amalgam use has decreased over the years, it is still the most widely used material due to the fact that it’s the cheapest option and holds up well over time. Composite resin, however, is a suitable alternative. Its cost is considered moderate and is either white or adjusted to match the color of your tooth enamel. Composite resin also adapts better to any cavity size, whereas amalgam struggles to adhere to smaller cavities. Therefore, amalgam can damage healthy areas of a tooth in order to cover a cavity. Amalgam also can tarnish or darken the tooth over time.

Other Dangers

Aside from direct effects in dentistry, amalgam has shown to impact the environment as well. Amalgam accounts for 240-300 tons of mercury entering the market every year. U.S. dental offices are the second largest user of mercury; the first is power generation.

Dental amalgam pollutes land, air, and water. Land is impacted by mercury through landfills, burials, and fertilizer. Air is infected through cremation, dental clinic emissions, sludge incineration, and respiration. Lastly, water comes in contact with mercury by way of dental clinic releases as well as human waste. Both of these issues are responsible for the largest source of mercury in our wastewater. The form of mercury used in amalgam is considered elemental. Once this mercury is exposed to the environment, however, it converts to methylmercury. This form of mercury is what is commonly found in the fish we consume. Therefore, amalgam impacts not only an individual, but the environment as well.

Sunrise Dentistry strives to provide not only dental health, but whole body health as well. By eliminating mercury from our practice, we are helping you to live a happier and healthier life. We offer biocompatible dental fillings, mercury level testing, and mercury removal. Call us at 970-247-3303 (Durango) or 970-533-7204 (Mancos) to schedule your appointment today!