Did you know that, in most cases, a dental filling won’t last forever? Tooth decay is common, but once you are missing a piece of natural tooth, it can only be restored with a dental restoration like a filling or crown. Fillings are designed to be durable, but nothing is as durable as your natural tooth (and hey, even that didn’t last). Patients often inquire about replacing their mercury (silver amalgam) fillings because of esthetics or negative health effects, but is it really necessary?

Silver fillings are safe and do not cause you any harm.

Silver fillings were a popular type of filling until white composite resins became the filling of  choice for many dental practices. This leads many patients to wonder if they should replace their old mercury fillings. To debunk one of the most common myths in dentistry, dental amalgam has been endorsed by the American Dental Association year after year with clinical evidence and research showing there is no harm in dental amalgam. In fact, it is considered safe and reliable to combat tooth decay.

If you have amalgam fillings and are considering replacing them solely for cosmetic reasons, you should carefully evaluate this decision with your dentist. Replacing dental fillings for purely esthetics can cause more harm than good. Each time we replace a filling, more tooth structure needs to be replaced or worked on. This can damage natural tooth structure and also irritate the pulp, or nerve, of that tooth. But there are some valid reasons why you should consider having your mercury fillings replaced.

1. Material Limitations

Amalgam has material limitations that newer dental fillings have improved upon. Unlike composite fillings that are bonded to teeth, amalgam fillings are retained solely by mechanical retention. They require much more tooth structure to be removed to prepare the tooth for the silver restoration. Over time, these fillings can wear away and fracture, leading to the need for a replacement.

Another material limitation is that amalgam fillings are composed of several types of metals. This can cause sensitivity to temperature changes because amalgam fillings are conductors. The cycle of expansion and shrinking of the filling can weaken the restoration and eventually cause harm to your tooth. If there is any structural damage from your mercury fillings, replacement with a composite filling may benefit your overall oral health.

2. Defective Fillings

If your filling has chips or fractures in it, this means there could be a break in the seal between the tooth and restoration. This can cause further tooth decay and also a breakdown of the tooth.

Amalgam fillings are expected to last approximately 10 years, although some can last much longer and others shorter. A filling’s lifespan is dependent upon your oral hygiene, diet, grinding or clenching habits, and how often you attend routine dental visits. Here are some common signs you have a filling that may need replacement:

  • Roughness or ledges around your filling margins.
  • Pain when eating.
  • A piece of your filling is missing.
  • Food gets caught between your teeth.
  • Sensitivity to temperature changes.

3. Allergy to Metal

Many people may be unaware they have a mercury or metal sensitivity. Some people will experience an adverse reaction to their new amalgam fillings because of the other metal content like tin or copper. These people can experience symptoms like itching or rashes. Some other signs of an allergy to elemental mercury exposure includes:

  • Headaches.
  • Emotional changes (for example, mood swings, irritability).
  • Mouth sores or lesions around the new amalgam restoration.
  • Breathing difficulties.

4. New Tooth Decay

If you have recurrent decay under your filling, it may be a good option to replace your filling with a white composite resin or a dental inlay or onlay for more protection. When a seal is broken between the tooth and restoration, this leaves a direct path for bacteria and food debris to enter and cause new tooth decay. You can also develop tooth decay on parts of your tooth that are unfilled. If you need a new filling, it may be a good opportunity to speak with your dentist about other restorative options.

5. Improved Esthetics

If your silver fillings are highly noticeable and bother you when you smile or laugh, speak with your dentist about how you can improve your confidence and well-being without damaging your teeth. Removing older amalgam fillings and replacing them with composite or resin fillings means they can be fabricated to match your natural teeth and appear nearly invisible.

If you are interested in learning about restorative replacements for your amalgam fillings, whether it’s for esthetic or health purposes, it is always wise to schedule a consultation to discuss your treatment options. Modern dentistry offers so many new types of fillings to benefit your overall dental health and well-being. If you’re ready to explore your options when it comes to your amalgam fillings, feel free to make an appointment to discuss your options at any time.