Dentists have replaced decayed areas of teeth with amalgam fillings for 100 years. Silver, zinc, nickel, tin, copper and other metals are mixed, or alloyed, with small amounts of mercury to form a non-toxic filling that seals over decayed areas and restores structure and function to the tooth.
Despite the contemporary debate over whether or not amalgam fillings made with mercury are harmful over the longer term, the American Dental Association stands on the principal that because dentists use mercury in concert with other metals, concerns of toxicity are unfounded.
Not all fillings are metallic. Composites the color of tooth enamel made of glass and resin are often the choice for fillings on the front teeth. These more costly alternatives to silver fillings can be used on the back teeth depending on the location and extent of the cavity.
The lifespan of fillings ranges depending on the size, placement, and chewing factors although most fillings last around 7 years. Regular dental check-ups can identify cracked or worn fillings in a timely manner before additional decay results. In cases where decay is extensive and insufficient tooth structure is left to support a filling, dentists may need to crown the tooth.
Last updated: 16-Jun-05