Dental FAQs
smoking and gum disease

Do white fillings or silver fillings have mercury in them?

Silver fillings do contain mercury, while white fillings do not. While some people have concern about mercury in silver fillings, properly placed silver fillings and white fillings are both excellent, safe solutions for filling cavities left by tooth decay. Dr. Welch will help you evaluate dental and aesthetic factors to choose the filling that is right for you.

Silver (Amalgam) Fillings Do Contain Mercury, but Not at Toxic Levels

Silver fillings do contain mercury. In fact, "silver" or amalgam fillings are mixtures of metals, including silver, mercury, tin, and copper. Sometimes, the combination also includes zinc, indium, or palladium. Mercury typically makes up about 50% of dental amalgam by weight; an amalgam filling is made by mixing liquid mercury with a powdered alloy of the other metals to make a putty-like substance, which is what's used as a "filling." Millions of people in the US have amalgam fillings, because the technology has been around for more than 150 years, it's the least expensive type of filling material, and amalgam fillings are strong and long-lasting.

In recent years, there has been quite a bit of public discussion and scientific review of the safety of dental amalgam, as patients are exposed to a small amount of mercury vapor that is released during the filling process and as the filling wears over time. (Large doses of exposure to mercury vapor has strongly negative effects on the brain and kidneys.)

The FDA reviewed the spectrum of scientific research to determine whether mercury-based fillings are of concern, and based on current evidence, the FDA deems amalgam fillings safe for adults and children 6 and above. Most research reviews conclude that your fillings expose you to less mercury than most people are exposed to by their environment and the foods they eat. In a very few cases, an individual has an allergy or sensitivity to mercury or another component of the dental amalgam; obviously, if you have a known sensitivity or allergy to any of these materials, amalgam fillings are a bad idea for you.

White (Composite) Fillings Do NOT Contain Mercury

Many people we see at Scott A. Welch, DDS, choose to have white fillings (also known as composite fillings) because they can be more aesthetically pleasing than silver fillings or because they have concern about the mercury in amalgam fillings. White or tooth-colored fillings do not contain mercury or any metal; they are made from a mix of tooth-colored plastic and glass. Dentists fill a decayed tooth with layers of the composite, using a special light to bond the filling to the tooth surface and harden each layer as it's placed.

There are benefits to using composite fillings, including a more natural look and support for the remaining tooth structure (because the resin bonds to the tooth surface). However, composite fillings are a bit more expensive than amalgam fillings, because the technique is more complex and it takes longer to place them. In addition, in larger cavities, composites frequently wear out more quickly than silver fillings.

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