What you should know before you switch out those old mercury fillings

I’ve got a mouth full of silver.

Not the metal silver, but silver-colored fillings made of mercury amalgam, a composite of mercury and several other metals.

Mercury amalgam fillings have been used for more than 150 years because they’re affordable and durable. But now that we know how hazardous mercury is to our health, many folks are considering having those old fillings replaced.

I’m one of those people.

But I’m finding that choosing another option isn’t as simple as all that. There’s the cost to be considered, and how much my insurance plan will cover.

There are more choices than I’d thought, making the decision more difficult.

And, there’s research showing that one popular option probably isn’t such a great idea.

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The “war” in your mouth that causes cavities

Scientists at the University of Toronto have discovered how our body’s own defense system may be contributing to tooth decay.

Your mouth is the perfect home for bacteria, which thrive in a moist, dark environment with lots of sugars for nourishment.

Your teeth are covered with plaque, a sticky film of bacteria. After a meal or snack, the bacteria turn the sugars you’ve just consumed into acid, which starts to break down your tooth enamel.

Specialized immune system cells called neutrophils live in your gums and are sent out to fight those bacteria.

What the Canadian researchers have discovered is that your teeth get “caught in the crossfire” between the neutrophils and the harmful bacteria.

Related: 4 supplements that fight aging and gum disease

When neutrophils attack, the bacteria send out even more acid. And the neutrophils, while they don’t produce acid, do send out enzymes that not only destroy the bacteria but damage your tooth enamel as well.

“It’s like when you take a sledgehammer to hit a fly on the wall,” says Yoav Finer, one of the study authors. “That’s what happens when neutrophils fight invaders.”

Not only do neutrophils cause cavities, but they also damage the fillings that repair them, sending you right back to the dentist’s chair for a replacement.

And there’s one type of filling that is most vulnerable.

“Pretty” fillings are most easily damaged

As an alternative to dangerous mercury fillings, many people are choosing tooth-colored composite resin fillings.

They are more attractive and using them can require less prep work than an amalgam filling.

But the Canadian researchers found that most of these fillings fail within five to seven years.

If the Mercury amalgam fillings expose us to mercury vapors that damage our brains, kidneys, heart, lungs and immune system, but the composite fillings don’t last long — what other options are there?

There are still a few, but none are hands down my favorite…

Cast gold fillings. These are more durable, but hard to put in. Also, they can cost up to ten times more than silver amalgam fillings.

And, though rare, having a gold filling next to a silver one can cause an interaction between the metals and saliva, resulting in an electric current and a painful galvanic shock. No thanks!

Ceramic fillings. They’re durable and attractive but can cost as much as gold.

Glass ionomer. Not the best choice. Made of acrylic and a specific type of glass, they don’t last long, and they release fluoride.

As you can see, the choices you have are kind of like being “between a rock and a hard place.” But research into alternatives is ongoing.

No filling needed?

University of Washington scientists are working on a process they call remineralization as an alternative to the usual treatment for cavities.

Using amelogenin, the protein needed to form tooth enamel, they developed peptides (naturally occurring molecules that carry out various bodily functions) that can potentially be used to repair cavities.

While the treatment is still in development, researchers anticipate that this will become a safe alternative to the standard “drill and fill” treatment that leaves us choosing between our health and our pocketbook.

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How to prevent cavities in the first place

Naturally, the best thing you can do is to prevent cavities in the first place.

Clearly, the less sugar you eat, the better. And, cutting back on sugar will save more than your teeth. It will help you avoid heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, too!

Other things you can do:

  • Brush and floss twice a day
  • Don’t smoke
  • Drink water
  • Calcium, phosphorous, vitamins D and A are essential for strong teeth. Make sure you get enough of these in your diet through fruits and vegetables, dairy and protein.
  • See your dentist at least once a year.
  • If you have tooth pain, don’t wait until it gets severe. By then, the damage will have been done and you’ll be under the drill.

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  1. Our Immune System Could Actually Be Contributing to Dental Cavities — ScienceAlert
  2. This New Treatment Could Heal Tooth Cavities Without Any Fillings — ScienceAlert
  3. U of T research finds body’s immune system is potential culprit in causing cavities, damaging fillings — University of Toronto News
  4. Dental Health and Tooth Fillings — WebMD
  5. Human neutrophils degrade methacrylate resin composites and tooth dentinActa Biomaterialia
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.