Are Dental Amalgam Fillings Safe?

The controversy about the safety of dental amalgam is back up for debate after the FDA released an update to its view on the use of mercury-based composites for repairing cavities.

So, what’s the deal with dental amalgam fillings? Are they safe for people? Should you be worried about having mercury in your mouth?

This post addresses the controversy and gets down to the truth about dental amalgam so you can rest easy.

What Are Dental Amalgam Fillings?

Referred to as “silver fillings” due to their appearance, dental amalgam fillings used to be the go-to for filling cavities. However, they are becoming less common as more people choose composite fillings instead.

Still, dental amalgam fillings last longer and can be used more often than composite materials. Plus, it’s often much cheaper than composite fillings.

​​Dental Amalgam is made of elemental mercury (roughly 50%) and a powdered alloy (usually copper, tin, and silver). The dentist will usually mix these components together to form the amalgam used to make the fillings. components combine to form the amalgam.

Is Dental Amalgam Safe (What are the Risks)?

The long-short of it is, yes. dental amalgam is safe. After multiple studies, extensive research, and millions of dental fillings, there is no conclusive evidence that dental amalgam is dangerous or exposes patients to unsafe levels of mercy.

Why? And how can this be? 

After all, there are plenty of stories, reports, and studies of people getting sick from mercury poisoning after consuming too much fish.

The truth comes down to the reality that there are multiple types of mercury: Elemental (liquid mercury), inorganic mercury, and organic mercury (methylmercury).

Organic mercury is found in the environment, is broken down from its non-organic form by a biological process, and bioaccumulates in organisms (like fish). This is a type of mercury that can become toxic if you eat too many fish with high levels of mercury.

Dental amalgam uses elemental mercury. This type of mercury releases mercury vapor which can be absorbed by the lungs. However, the amount of mercury vapor released by your fillings is minimal. More so, it’s very poorly absorbed by your body and poses little risk.

Mercury is everywhere. It’s released by volcanoes, coal plants, and other sources into the atmosphere. In fact, most people have some trace elements of methylmercury in their blood. And that’s why studies have shown that people with mercury fillings don’t have significantly higher levels of mercury in their blood than others without fillings.

Still, problems arise if you absorb a significant amount of mercury. Over time, amalgam fillings will wear with use, releasing mercury vapor in small amounts. However, that amount of mercury released is negligible.

Interestingly enough, dentists are more at risk of mercury exposure than patients. They work with mercury in its elemental form. If they’re exposed to large quantities of it without wearing protection, this could put them at potential risk.

“At-Risk” Patients and Dental Amalgam

There’s very little evidence or studies available to prove that certain groups might be more susceptible to the effects of mercury vapor found in dental amalgam.

Still, it’s worth noting that it is possible that some groups of people with sensitivities to mercury vapor may be more at risk than others.

The following categories of people are considered in the “at-risk” category. The FDA recommends they seek alternatives to dental amalgam: 

  • Pregnant and nursing women
  • Women planning to be pregnant
  • Children under six
  • Those suffering from liver or kidney damage
  • People with an allergy to mercury

There is no data to definitively back up the claim that these groups of people could experience negative side effects from dental amalgam. Still, if you’re in the “at-risk” category, you should speak with your dentist about your concerns before undergoing any treatment. 

Why Is Mercury Used in Dental Amalgam?

When you have a cavity, your dentist needs to drill into your tooth to remove the decay. Afterward, they’ll fill the hole in your tooth with a filling.

There are several types of fillings you can have for cavities, but dental amalgam is the oldest. In fact, it’s been in use in dentistry for over 150 years.


Mercury makes the amalgam flexible and soft so it can easily fill the tooth. Plus, it’s very strong and once it hardens, it can handle the pressure from chewing and biting without issue. And for patients with severe tooth decay (or where excessive moisture is an issue), it bonds better in moist environments.

Mercury-based amalgam fillings are also cheaper than resin and composite-based filings. So, if you’re worried about expensive dental bills, they can be a better option. 

Should You Have Your Dental Amalgam Fillings Removed?

It’s best to leave any filling that isn’t compromised alone. Unnecessarily removing a filling exposes your tooth cavity to bacteria during the replacement process. And that can put your oral health at risk.

Additionally, removing the mercury filling releases more mercury vapor (though still only small amounts). Either way, it’s best to leave any fillings you have in your mouth alone unless they need to be replaced.

What Are Alternatives to Mercury-Based Fillings?

While the risks from mercury-based fillings are extremely low, some people don’t want to risk it. For those, there are high-copper and indium-based amalgams. These amalgams have lower quantities of mercury in them, making them an ideal alternative for people concerned about dental amalgam fillings.

There are also alternatives if you want to completely avoid amalgam. Composite resin and porcelain fillings are tooth-colored, meaning that people won’t see your fillings when you smile or laugh. Just keep in mind that they’re typically more expensive and aren’t always the best solution. 

Gold fillings are another option. But again, you need to consider the price and whether or not you’re the right candidate for them.

Either way, you should speak to your dentist about alternatives to dental amalgam fillings to find the one that’s right for you.

How to Talk to Your Dentist About Amalgam Alternatives?

You have every right to voice your health concerns. And your dentist will be there to listen to you and provide the treatment option that’s best.

Be sure to let your dentist know if you work around high levels of mercury, if you’re pregnant, or if you simply have fears about dental amalgams before your next dental treatment.

Don’t Settle for Amalgam Fillings

While the FDA has stated that amalgam fillings are safe, you shouldn’t feel like you have to settle for them if you don’t want them. It’s true that composite and porcelain fillings are more expensive, but they don’t have to be.

The Carefree Dental Card is a discount dental plan that can give you significant savings from your dental bills, including tooth fillings.

Get the dental care you need at a lower cost by signing up for Carefree Dental today!



The Carefree Dental blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed dentist or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

The Carefree Dental Card is not insurance and Carefree Dental is not an insurance provider.

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