The answer to the last question is less and less. Dentists use grey fillings less frequently than they did decades ago because white fillings have gained popularity. Technology has helped white composite fillings improve their physical properties to restore teeth efficiently and last years in a people’s mouths.
But despite their dark colour, silver fillings have a few advantages over other materials.
Amalgam is the correct dental term for grey fillings. They are called “amalgam” because the material is an alloy of three metals: silver, tin, copper (and sometimes zinc) all mixed with liquid mercury. “Silver filling” is just a nickname, but it’s mercury that has the highest weight content in amalgam fillings.
Silver fillings have been in use for more than 150 years. But their popularity has declined because of concerns of toxicity of mercury. It has become a controversial issue: some dentists don’t use it because they fear its alleged toxicity, and many patients refuse to have it in their mouths. But research hasn’t yet proved completely that grey fillings are harmful for the human body, and dental associations of many countries still consider it as a good material. Future research might change the opinion of the whole of the dental community on amalgam fillings.
But despite the displeasing appearance that amalgam fillings hold in the mouth, they still have a few advantages over their composite cousins:
- they last longer, years longer; it is reported that amalgam fillings can last on average between 10 and 15 years, compared to 3 to 10 years for composite fillings;
- they cost less: there are fewer steps in preparing a silver filling which makes it less costly;
- they cause less post-operative sensitivity: after doing white fillings, teeth can be sensitive for weeks after the dental appointment, and sometimes months; grey fillings are less sensitive to teeth after they have been placed.
But other than their dark colour and mercury content, grey fillings have more disadvantages. A tooth can fracture when the filling is too big as amalgam expands 24 hours after it was placed. If a filling becomes too big, whether it’s amalgam or composite, it would be better to consider placing a crown on a tooth instead of a filling.
Other materials also exist to restore teeth, like gold or porcelain. But these require to be prepared indirectly, which means outside the person’s mouth, by either a laboratory or a milling machine (CAD/CAM). They are called inlays and onlays, and because of their high quality, they can cost five to seven times more than amalgam or composite fillings.
- Arvind Shenoy. Is it the end of the road for dental amalgam? A critical review. J Conserv Dent. 2008 Jul-Sep; 11(3): 99–107.
- Ramesh Bharti, Kulvinder Kaur Wadhwani, Aseem Prakash Tikku, and Anil Chandra. Dental amalgam: An update. J Conserv Dent. 2010 Oct-Dec; 13(4): 204–208.
- FDA – U.S. Food and Drug Administration (About Dental Amalgam Fillings).
The information above should be used as a reference only. Any medical decision should not be taken before consulting a health care professional.
The masculine gender may have been more used in the article, but without prejudice, to make reading easier.
Category: questions and answers
- Are dental x-rays safe for pregnant women?
- Are teeth alive?
- At what age do children’s teeth start coming out?
- Can an abscess cause a tooth to break apart?
- Can dry mouth be harmful?
- Can heart disease be related to dental care?
- Can teeth grinding affect children?
- Can wisdom teeth move other teeth?
- Can you drink alcohol after tooth extraction?
- Do you have to remove retainers or orthodontic appliances when you eat?
- Does chewing gum after a meal help eliminating dental plaque?
- Does chewing gum eliminate bad breath?
- For which sports should you use a mouthguard?
- How can smokers take care of their oral health?
- How can you get rid of a tooth abscess?
- How can you get rid of an ulcer or a canker sore on your tongue?
- How can you prevent a tooth abscess?
- How can you reduce the effects of dry mouth?
- How can you tell if you have a tooth abscess?
- How can you tell that you are grinding your teeth?
- How can you tell that you have dry mouth?
- How can you treat a tooth abscess?
- How can you treat dry mouth?
- How can you treat teeth grinding?
- How does smoking affect oral health?
- How does smoking affect overall health?
- How is infective endocarditis related to oral health?
- How long does it bleed after wisdom teeth extraction?
- How long does the numbing last after a dentist appointment?
- How many teeth are there in the mouth?
- How soon after tooth extraction can you use a straw?
- How thin are dental veneers?
- Is a root canal painful?
- Is amalgam in teeth (grey fillings) bad for your health?
- Is it necessary to place a dental crown on a tooth that had a root canal?
- Is it normal for gums to bleed when you brush your teeth?
- Is it painful to place a dental implant in your mouth?
- Is smoking bad for your teeth?
- Is there a relationship between dental problems and overall health problems?
- Should people that had a heart attack take precautions when undergoing dental treatments?
- Should people that have a pacemaker take special precautions with their dental care?
- Should people that have had coronary artery bypass surgery take special precautions with their dental care?
- Should people that suffer from congestive heart failure take special precautions with their dental care?
- Should people with angina take precautions when undergoing dental treatments?
- Should people with high blood pressure take precautions when undergoing dental treatments?
- What are the advantages of silver fillings?
- What are the symptoms of having a tooth abscess?
- What can you eat after wisdom teeth extraction?
- What diseases might cause you to have dry mouth?
- What lasts longer, grey or white fillings?
- What may happen if you don’t treat a cavity?
- What might cause you to grind your teeth?
- What might happen if you don’t treat a tooth abscess?
- When can you eat and drink after a tooth filling?
- When can you play sports after wisdom teeth surgery?
- When can you smoke after a tooth extraction?
- When do dissolvable stitches fall out after wisdom teeth extraction?
- Where does a tooth go after extraction?
- Which is better retainers or braces?
- Why are wisdom teeth called “wisdom teeth”?
- Why is teeth-grinding bad for you?
- Why you should not smoke after tooth extraction?
- Will taking antibiotics make the colour of your teeth darker?