Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

Dental Debaters Getting Foot in Mouth

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By James Gaffney

Mature Life Features

Consumers are caught in the crossfire over the debate about the safety of silver-colored fillings, known as dental amalgam.

The controversy pits science against emotion.

The decision about what to use to fill cavities is a matter best decided by the patient and his or her dentist, says the American Dental Association. Yet emotional reports claiming amalgam is responsible for a variety of diseases are confusing and perhaps even alarming people to the point where they will not seek necessary dental care.

Of the dental filling materials available today – gold, silver-colored amalgam, and tooth-colored
fillings – one material, amalgam, has been attacked to the extent that some would ban it. This
would deprive dental patients of a valuable – and, in some instances, irreplaceable – treatment
option, says the ADA.

The ADA says it is concerned that misguided fears about the safety of amalgam, coupled with the
added costs of the more expensive filling options, may cause people to forego necessary dental
care. Far fewer people have dental insurance than medical insurance, and not all insurance plans
cover all filling options.

Despite amalgam’s long and impressive track record, the ADA says a small group has been
communicating primarily through the Internet that amalgam is somehow responsible for diseases
such as autism, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis because it is an alloy with mercury. Physicians and researchers have yet to determine the cause for each of these diseases, leaving the door open for speculation.

The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention, U.S. Public Health Services, National Institutes of Health  and other organizations responsible for protecting the nation’s health have extensively evaluated amalgam declared it safe and effective.

Concern about amalgam because it contains mercury is intuitive but not supported by scientific
fact, the ADA says. It is true that amalgam contains mercury, but when it is mixed with metals
such as silver, copper and tin, it forms a stable alloy that dentists have used for years to
successfully treat dental disease in millions of people. Similar to the way sodium and chlorine (both hazardous in their pure state) combine to form ordinary table salt, the mercury in dental amalgam combines with other metals to form a stable dental filling.

 Amalgam has been used for more than a century to fill and preserve hundreds of millions of
decayed teeth, according to the ADA. Until the advent of amalgam, most people lost their teeth
due to decay. Critics claim that amalgam, because it has been in use for over a hundred years, is outdated and
should be replaced with other, newer materials.

Getting rid of amalgam would be like getting rid of aspirin, according to ADA officials. In some situations, such as large cavities in the rear molars or cavities below the gum line, amalgam is often used because of its durability and affordability, and because it is one of the best filling materials that can be placed in areas of the mouth that are difficult to keep dry.

In other situations, such as a tiny cavity where the tooth needs very little preparation or because
the patient wants a more natural-looking filling, amalgam clearly takes a back seat to tooth-colored fillings, officials agree.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2003

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

October 31, 2011 at 12:05 am

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