Dental amalgam is a type of restorative dentistry treatment used to repair minimal tooth fractures, tooth decay or otherwise damaged surfaces of the teeth. Amalgam is a metal alloy made from elemental liquid mercury and alloy powder, which contains silver, tin, copper and sometimes zinc, palladium or indium.
Dental amalgam is used for patients who are looking for low cost, ease of application, strength and durability. Amalgam fillings are the most cost-effective options for tooth restoration and are among the most durable, typically lasting from 10 to 15 years.
The dentist evaluates the patient’s teeth, gums and supporting bone structure. The tooth surfaces affected by decay or damage are identified and prepared for restoration. To treat a cavity, the dentist removes the decayed portion of the tooth and uses amalgam to fill the area on the tooth where the decayed material once lived.
The tooth and surrounding gum tissue are numbed with a local anesthetic. A drill, air abrasion instrument or laser is used to remove the decayed area. The area designated to receive the amalgam is cleansed of bacteria and debris. Amalgam is manipulated into the open space in the tooth and is molded to fit exactly. The excess amalgam is scraped off, and the tooth is polished.
The cost of an amalgam filling varies based on location, the individual dental office, and the number of surfaces on the tooth being restored.
Patients may experience some sensitivity to hot, cold or sweet substances, but the problem should resolve within a week or two.
Safety of Amalgam-Type Fillings
There has been a great deal written about whether amalgam is a safe option for repairing tooth decay. Amalgam fillings contain mercury, a substance that can be toxic; however, many studies show that when mercury is mixed with the other metals used in amalgam fillings, such as silver, copper, tin and zinc, the mercury forms a stable alloy that is not dangerous to the patient or the environment.
A statement from the American Dental Association report in April 2007 says, “The ADA supports ongoing research in the development of new materials. However, the ADA continues to believe that amalgam is a valuable, viable and safe choice for dental patients.”