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Dental Amalgam and the Risks Essay

What is amalgam?

Amalgam is a combination of metals that has been used in dentistry for more than 100 years. It is still commonly used today. Although it sometimes is called “silver amalgam,” amalgam actually consists of a combination of metals. These include silver, mercury, tin and copper. Small amounts of zinc, indium or palladium also may be used.

How safe is amalgam?

Many studies on the safety of amalgam fillings have been done. In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) evaluated this research. It found no reason to limit the use of amalgam. The FDA concluded that amalgam fillings are safe for adults and children ages 6 and above.

Why is mercury used in amalgam?

Mercury is used in amalgam because it helps make the filling material pliable. When it is mixed with an alloy powder, it creates a compound that is soft enough to mix and press into the tooth. But it also hardens quickly and can withstand the forces of biting and chewing.

Why the concern about mercury in amalgam?

Everyone is exposed to mercury through air, drinking water, soil and food. Concerns have been raised, for instance, about the amount of mercury building up in fish as a result of pollution. Mercury enters the air from industries that burn mercury-containing fuels. Mercury from all sources can build up in body organs. As with most substances, the degree of harm caused by mercury in the body is related to the amount. Very low levels don’t cause any ill effects. At higher levels — for instance, when workers are exposed to mercury through their jobs — mercury can cause several symptoms. These include anxiety, irritability, memory loss, headaches and fatigue. Studies have shown that the amount of mercury you are exposed to from your fillings is less than the amount that most people are exposed to in their daily environment or in the food they eat. Do some people have reactions to amalgam?

In rare cases, people have allergic reactions to the mercury in amalgam. The American Dental Association says that fewer than 100 cases of this type of allergy have ever been reported. People allergic to amalgam can receive other filling materials.

Should pregnant women be concerned about amalgam feelings?

Research has not shown any health effects from amalgam fillings in pregnant women. However, mercury can cross the placenta. In general, dentists advise pregnant women to avoid unnecessary dental care. Women should not get amalgam fillings during pregnancy. Dentists can suggest other materials for any pregnant woman who needs a cavity filled. If amalgam is safe, why does my dentist take precautions when handling it?

Because dentists work with mercury almost every day, they must take safety precautions. Without protection, dentists can inhale mercury vapors. Over time, this exposure can produce symptoms of mercury toxicity.

How is dental amalgam made?

To make dental amalgam, dentists mix liquid mercury with a powder containing silver, tin and other metals. Dentists buy special capsules that contain the powder and the liquid mercury, separated by a membrane. They use special machinery to puncture the membrane and mix the amalgam while it is still in the capsule. Once mixing is complete, the capsule is opened. By the time the amalgam is placed in your tooth, the mercury has formed a compound with the other metals. It is no longer toxic.


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