While the American Dental Association (ADA) continues to endorse the use of amalgam fillings, there has been widespread debate on their use since the 1800s. Because amalgam fillings contain inorganic mercury, some non scientific studies link them with mercury poisoning, which can cause serious problems with the brain and nervous system. Symptoms include memory loss, mood swings, irritability, fatigue, headaches, depression, anxiety, and the onset of severe personality disorders.
Tooth colored composite, or bonded, fillings are now available for patients who wish to avoid any potential risks associated with amalgam fillings. Bonded fillings strengthen teeth, look more natural, and are mercury free. Amalgam fillings, on the other hand, have a history filled with contentious debate.
Mercury Fillings Replace Gold
The word amalgam refers to any mixture comprised of mercury and other metals. The Frenchman, August Taveau, invented amalgam fillings in 1816 by mixing mercury with shavings from silver coins. The Crawcour brothers, also Frenchmen, introduced this new type of dental filling to England in 1830. Shortly thereafter, they brought amalgam fillings to the United States.
They called amalgam fillings “royal mineral succedaneum” because they replaced, or succeeded, gold fillings. Before the invention of amalgam, patients with a bothersome cavity had two options. Either a dentist could pull the affected tooth, or they could remove the cavity and pound hot gold into the patient’s tooth. Amalgam fillings were inexpensive and dentists could place them at room temperature. Because gold was expensive and the placement of gold fillings was painful, amalgam became widely popular.
The Amalgam War
During the 1800s, there were two separate dental professions in the United States. There were barber dentists and medical dentists. Barber dentists were exactly what they sound like, barbers who practiced dentistry. Medical dentists were doctors trained to practice dentistry. Barber dentists were the first to implement amalgam fillings because medical dentists at the time were concerned about the effect of amalgam on patient health.
Amalgam became increasingly popular as more and more barber dentists used it to repair cavities. By the 1830s, mercury was widely considered poisonous because of its use in the hatting industry. Hatters often displayed signs of mercury poisoning. The American Society of Dental Surgeons (ASDS) therefore declared the use of amalgam fillings as malpractice. As the popularity of amalgam spread, however, more medical dentists began to use the material to fill teeth. This led to the eventual formation of the ADA, which was decidedly pro-mercury.
Schedule an Appointment
The debate over amalgam fillings lingers today, although composite, or bonded, fillings are becoming the standard choice for repairing a cavity. If you would like to know more about dental bonding with composite material, please schedule a consultation with Dr. James Fondriest by calling our Lake Forest cosmetic dentist office at (847) 234-0517. We serve the Chicago, Illinois area, including the North Shore suburbs of Winnetka, Highland Park, Northbrook, Northfield, Glenview, Lincolnshire, Deerfield, Lake Bluff, Libertyville, Vernon Hills, Gurnee, Grayslake, and Barrington.