The Dangers Of Old, Metal Fillings (And What To Do About It)

Teeth Whitening | 2 | Nashua Family Dentistry, Nashua NH

In the past, there was one way to treat a cavity: metal.

When harmful bacteria thrive on your teeth, they corrode the enamel. It literally begins to disappear, leaving a small hole behind. That’s what a cavity is; a hole in your enamel. The traditional way to repair this was by filling that cavity with a metal amalgam. That’s a mixture of different metals. It repaired the tooth and let you eat with it again. What’s not to like?

Several things, apparently. Metal amalgam fillings are not without their downsides. This only gets worse when you’ve had them in your teeth for a long time. Here are some of the dangers of keeping old, metal fillings in your mouth.

  • Microfractures in teeth: When metal is pushed into a filling to fill in the decayed area, you are also pushing against the healthy enamel. Things get worse when you eat. The pressure that comes from chewing foods pushes against the metal. In turn, it pushes against your enamel. Now imagine doing this over and over again, every day for decades.

Such pressure can actually cause small cracks in the healthy parts of your teeth. If these cracks reach the pulp, you could be at a higher risk for pain and infection requiring a root canal. Plus, the bigger the cavity, the bigger the filling. And that means the more danger posed to the rest of the tooth.

  • Removing healthy enamel: In order for a metal amalgam filling to fit, the cavity has to be a certain size. If it’s too small, there’s not enough room for the filling. To get past this problem, a dentist would have to remove some healthy enamel, not just the decayed part. Why take away healthy enamel if you don’t need to?
  • Possible mercury toxicity: The jury is still out on this one, but since it’s going in your mouth, you should hear about it. A small amount of mercury is used in metal amalgam fillings. It helps the other metals mix and become malleable enough to use as a filling. However, mercury is toxic to humans. Over time, some of this mercury can escape as a vapor and get into your body.

That’s why dentists usually will not give these fillings to pregnant women even if they normally use them. The FDA has said that anyone over age 6 can safely use metal amalgam fillings. But if there is a good alternative, why not go for that?

  • Fractured fillings: Over time, the pressure you put on a filling is enormous. Metal amalgam fillings are tough, but nothing lasts forever. There’s a chance you could have fractured a metal filling. More mercury can leak out, and bacteria can start to thrive in that crack. Due to their age, your old metal fillings are more at risk for fracturing.
  • Possible allergic reaction: People are not supposed to have metal in them. While it is rare, some people have an allergic reaction to the metal, especially that small amount of mercury. This can mean skin rashes, itches, and other allergy symptoms.
  • Metal can hide decay: Sometimes, you can spot a cavity simply by seeing the damage to the enamel. However, usually a dentist needs to take X-rays to see what’s going on. That’s because no one can see all parts of a tooth. The metal in old amalgam fillings blocks X-rays. Even with taking them, the dentists at our Nashua, NH dental office might not be able to detect all cavities. Untreated cavities aren’t just painful, they can allow bacteria to infect your dental pulp. This is very painful and needs a root canal to fix.

Composite Resin Fillings And More Are Simply Better

If metal amalgam fillings are that bad, what’s the alternative? Actually, you have three at our Nashua, NH dental office.

  • Composite resin fillings: Fillings can how be made out of a composite resin material. You’ll get the same durability and strength as with metal amalgam fillings. They will repair the damage caused by tooth decay just as well. But this material will be colored to match your teeth. It will look great in your mouth.
  • Inlays and onlays: The point is to repair the damage and make sure the area is protected. That doesn’t mean you always have to literally fill in the cavity. Instead, inlays and onlays seal up the area and make it strong again.
  • Dental crowns: If a cavity is big enough, composite fillings and inlays or onlays might not work. Instead, a dental crown is most likely your best bet. It covers your whole tooth. This seals up the damage and holds your tooth together.

If you have old metal fillings, your dentist in Nashua, NH can replace them. Not only will they look better, they’ll be healthier for you as well. Call us today at 603-546-7460 for a new appointment to discuss how we can help your old fillings.


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