When it has been determined that a tooth needs restoration either because of decay, the tooth is fractured or chipped or because of esthetic concerns there are different dental materials which can be used to address the problem. In this article I will briefly describe amalgams, commonly known as “silver fillings.”
Silver filings are actually any alloy, or mixture of different metals. Amalgam fillings are a combination of silver, mercury, tin, copper and sometimes other metallic elements. Amalgam fillings provide a strong restoration, or filling, They can withstand the significant forces created when chewing. They are useful when the tooth to be repaired is difficult to keep dry at the time of treatment as they are not so easily affected by moisture at the time of placement.
There are advantages and disadvantages with amalgam fillings. As mentioned they are strong fillings when completely set or cured. (When new, for the first hour or so they are not yet strong). They are fairly easy to do and somewhat less expensive than alternative materials.
Disadvantages include that they can be sensitive to hot and cold although other materials can also occasionally be sensitive. Probably the most common complaint regarding silver filling is the color. They are initially a light grey but over time can become very dark approaching black in color. They tend to make a tooth weaker and require more removal of healthy tooth structure to be successful.
There have been reports of concern about the safety of silver amalgam fillings- generally because the fillings contain mercury. However the mercury is bound irreversibly with the silver. The safety of this dental material has been studied extensively and fortunately no diseases or long term health issues have been found.
In our office we rarely use amalgam fillings. Generally people are not happy with the appearance. But more importantly alternatives to amalgam allow a smaller filling with less changes to healthy tooth structure.