The CBS TV show, 60 Minutes, did a program on silver fillings. The point was made that silver fillings are composed of silver, tin, copper, tin and mercury. In fact, about half of the filling is mercury and mercury is a poison. However, once the filling has hardened very little mercury vapor is released. It has only been in the last few years there were instruments sensitive enough to detect these traces of mercury.

When working with this material, we are careful in the office; because, of the quantity of filling material we use. We have had the office checked and the levels we are exposed to are very low, a safe level. Should you be concerned about the silver fillings you have in your mouth? The best published scientific studies indicate there is no problem. Silver fillings have been used for over 100 years and no study has shown that the population with silver fillings have more medical problems than the population that does not have silver fillings.

One study, on sheep, showed mercury from fillings that were placed in the sheep's teeth also was deposited in various other tissues of their bodies. The study has been criticized for several reasons: Sheep are cud chewing animals. They regurgitate their food and rechew it. Thus, they are chewing almost all day. The regurgitated material is more acid than most food. Their jaws are much larger compared to their body size than the jaw of a human.

If you are concerned, what is the alternative? We can use composite (plastic) or gold fillings. Ten years ago, we were one of 20 offices picked nationwide to test composite filing materials. These fillings are now 10 years old. They have the advantage of being tooth colored and seem to be working. They do wear a little faster than silver and are somewhat more difficult to place. Their life expectancy seems to be 10 to 15 years. Gold has been used for years and also works very well. Why do we not routinely use these? In one word, cost. Gold fillings cost 6 - 10 times more than silver fillings and require two appointments. Composite fillings cost about one third more than silver. Insurance companies will not pay for this increased cost.

If you have silver fillings, what should you do? Until there is a study that shows they are a problem, I would suggest you do nothing. My family has silver fillings and I see no need to replace them. If you need a filling, should you use a silver one. I leave that decision to you. We will do composite, silver or gold, at your request. You should realize that insurances companies will not pay for the more costly options.

To put this in some perspective, the magazine Consumer Reports did a story on this issue a few years ago and they saw no reason to replace silver fillings. They suggested the reason some dentists were replacing silver fillings had to do with the fact that they were not very busy. Fluoride has cut down the amount of decay we see. A speaker, at a course I attended, claimed if you eat a few tuna fish sandwiches each year you get more mercury from the fish than from your fillings.

I am interested in this topic and will be watching the medical and dental literature. Some day, I may be change my mind. However, in 1996, I am comfortable that silver fillings offer little if any hazard. With present scientific studies and the added cost of composite or gold fillings, I will continue using silver filling. It is your choice, however, to request either gold or composite fillings. Back to newsletter index