Friday, July 20, 2012

The a-word (amalgam)

Before I got my cavities filled, I asked my dentist: “Do you recommend amalgam or composite?” She sounded shocked: "Of course composite resin. God no, we don’t use amalgam.” Amalgam is the new dirty word in dentistry. (Photos from


Amalgam is a mixture of different metals that is used in fillings. Recently it has become less popular due to the fact that it contains mercury, although there is no danger of mercury poisoning from professional fillings. People prefer composite (plastic) also because it blends in with teeth naturally.

Composite is cured with that magic blue light that beeps twice on your tooth. Amalgam, on the other hand, hardens without any light. Mercury is added in liquid form to the metal powders in order to make the mixture pliable.


Amalgams are cheaper and are able to withstand higher load pressure than composite resin. Most clinical studies comparing the longevity of amalgam versus composite restorations suggest amalgam restorations outlast composite fillings (also here and here).  Some suggest resin lasts longer than amalgam (at 10 years, 82.2% of resin lasted compared to 79.2% of amalgam). Others offer mixed results.(Some suggest amalgam restorations last longer like this one). Survival of fillings depend on many factors including use of teeth and site of restoration.

In 2010, there was a huge outcry for the FDA to re-evaluate its claim that the mercury-containing amalgam in teeth is safe. Several patients and dental assistants came forth claiming that they had mercury poisoning from this supposedly safe amalgam. Some countries have gone as far as to ban amalgam fillings containing mercury (Sweden, Denmark). While dentists agree that it is risky to use mercury-containing amalgam in pregnant women and children under 6, amalgam is still currently used as a popular filling substance in teeth.

This Hall & Oates song came on the radio and it is perfect for this situation:

Now I’ll do anything that you want me to
I’ll do almost anything that you want me to
But I can’t go for that (no can do)

My dentist is so flexible and open-minded when it comes to everything but when it came to amalgam, she just wouldn’t budge (no can do). I’m going to think about composite and amalgam and teeth fillings whenever I hear this song.


Happy weekend! A place where weekdays blend into weekends… just like the ocean blends into the sky. Saturday? What Saturday?