There is no substitute for consistent, preventive dental care. Regular brushing, flossing and rinsing are essential to oral health. Limiting sugar in the diet also helps to protect tooth enamel and pulp. Of course, semi-annual dental check-ups and cleanings are essential to a healthy mouth. All that said, even the most zealous of self-care practitioners can suffer from tooth decay and develop caries. This may relate to excessive mouth breathing or simply genetic predisposition. If cavities develop, they require filling with a substance that is non-toxic, strong and durable; a substance that will seal the affected tooth and prevent infections.
The amalgam fillings that are widely used by dentists were first conceived in the early 19th century and employed primarily in England and France. Comprised of mercury, silver, copper and tin, this emulsion found its way to the United States in 1830; many patients reported harmful effects due to mercury exposure. Dental societies shunned amalgams and went so far as to designating their use as a form of malpractice. As the years passed, the proportions of the constituent components of amalgams were tweaked but mercury remained because of its ability to render the other metals more malleable. Over time, use of amalgams increased and professional objections diminished significantly.
Yet the voices opposed to amalgams have not ceased. For one thing, there is an almost intuitive feeling that mercury—a known toxic substance—can only do harm inside the mouth, through vapor and transmitted by saliva. In addition, some studies and autopsies have revealed higher mercury levels in the bloodstream and tissues of those whose teeth contain amalgams. Still more inquiries link amalgams to conditions like chronic fatigue and even Alzheimer’s Disease. At the same time, we consume and breathe in toxins every day from myriad sources. The operative question is how much can we tolerate without experiencing illness.
The American Dental Association contends that there are no controlled studies showing a positive link between amalgams—as presently composed—and adverse effects on overall health. The organization cites research from the World Health Organization, the New England Journal of Medicine, the American Medical Association and, most recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that confirms no such positive connection has (as of yet) been made. For the unconvinced, however, many dentists can employ alternatives to amalgams like gold (pricey) or porcelain composites. Ultimately, patient demand will override scientific debate.