Dental amalgam is an alloy (mixture) of elemental mercury with other metals, which may include silver, copper, tin and zinc. It has been used as a restorative material for dental cavities for more than 150 years, and the American Dental Association (ADA) estimates that 71 million amalgam restorations (fillings) were placed in 1999, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
Dentists use dental amalgam because the material is durable, easy to work with, and can be placed rapidly into a prepared tooth.
Despite its long history of use, dental amalgam has stirred controversy due to its mercury content. For nearly a century, concerns have been raised about the potential adverse human health effects that may arise from the inhalation and absorption of mercury vapor from dental amalgam. Opponents claim that mercury release from dental amalgam leads to a variety of health problems after its placement in the mouth.
Numerous government and independent agencies have examined the safety of dental amalgam and have concluded that there is no scientifically relevant evidence to demonstrate a causal link between dental amalgam and adverse health effects, except in rare instances of allergic reactions.
A review released Dec. 9, 2004 by the Life Sciences Research Office (LSRO) in Bethesda, MD., which is based upon seven years of scientific studies, draws identical conclusions.
The LSRO conducted this independent scientific review of dental amalgam at the request of a work group made up of representatives from the National Institutes of Health Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Public Health Service. Both the ADA and the WSDA support these findings.
The Washington Department of Health (DOH) has also been asked to address concerns that the mercury in amalgam fillings poses a health risk to the wearer. Mercury can damage the central nervous system if enough is absorbed into the body. The DOH has prepared this information about amalgam fillings to answer questions about their safety, and to provide resources and references for those wishing to further explore the issues.