Mercury is a heavy metal that is found naturally in our environment and widely used in many applications. This element is in soil, mixed in the air we breathe, the foods that we eat, and also utilized by the medical and dental communities despite being highly toxic. At our Jacksonville, Florida office we understand that this element is harmful to our patients’ health and know that there are safer alternatives. In this blog we will delve into this mercury mystery to explain why and how mercury is used and discuss the things you can do to minimize your exposure as well as the safe alternatives our practice utilizes to improve your dental health.
What is Mercury?
Mercury is an element that is found in the earth’s crust. In its pure form is a liquid at room temperature. Yet it is impossible to find in this state. Mercury must be mined from ore called cinnabar, which is a mercury sulfate. This must be heated to extremely high temperatures where it changes states into a vapor and is collected.
What Is Mercury Used For?
Mercury has been in use for many reasons for centuries. Its earliest use was as a pigment to decorate cave walls in the paleolithic period. Alchemists believed it could be turned into gold and it was even used as a treatment for diseases for many years. Scientific research shows that mercury is highly toxic, however it is still used in many applications today. It is highly conductive of electricity and most commonly found in the household in fluorescent light bulbs.Because of its density it is also used in many medical and scientific instruments such as thermometers and barometric pressure gauges. Through many years of experimentation mercury has been mixed with many metals to create amalgam. These alloys are made of silver and other metals, the mercury makes them moldable, pliable and seemingly perfect to fill cavities and fix the damage caused by tooth decay.
Mercury and Dentistry
Since the 1800s mercury amalgam fillings have been experimented with to fill cavities. Interestingly enough, the dangers of mercury has been well documented and understood for many years before using it in dental applications. Despite this knowledge mercury amalgam fillings have been used as an inexpensive, yet unsightly solution of fixing and preventing further decay. Because these fillings are so malleable they were perfect for molding into small cavities and alleviating pain by blocking nerves. However as dental technology evolved better, and safer alternatives have been developed.
Toxicity of Mercury
The dangers of mercury have been well documented and understood for centuries, yet it is still used in many medical and industrial applications. Humans can be exposed to mercury through inhalation, ingestion, and through open wounds. It causes damage to the liver, kidneys, tooth loss, ulcers and most importantly neurological damage. Because mercury usage is so widespread, mercury pollution releases this element into the soil where it is absorbed by plants and in the oceans where fish absorb it. Mercury poisoning is such a problem that pregnant women are advised to avoid eating large fish as they contain enough mercury to cause damage to their growing fetuses.
It is an easy link to make to understand why mercury amalgam fillings are harmful for patients. Over time these fillings can break down and be swallowed. Similarly they can further fracture the teeth because they are metal and metals expand and contract with fluctuating temperatures. Further, to place an amalgam filling a dentist must remove some healthy tooth tissue as well as the decayed portion of the tooth. Composite bonding is a safer alternative that does not require your Jacksonville dentist to remove healthy tooth tissues as well as decayed tissue to stop and fill a cavity.
Thankfully dental technology has developed composite bonded resin fillings to replace amalgam. Choosing these types of fillings are not only more aesthetically pleasing but also prevent you from being exposed to toxic levels of mercury. Other ways to avoid excessive mercury exposure is to be mindful of what you are eating. Large fish like shark, swordfish, and tuna absorb large amounts of mercury from the ocean. Eating only small amounts of these large, predatory fish can help you limit your exposure. Similarly understand that fluorescent light bulbs are full of mercury and if broken cause a very real risk of overexposure.
At our Jacksonville dental office, we understand the dangers of amalgam fillings and mercury exposure as a whole. When you come to us for a filling we will provide the safest, most durable and best looking filling for you. If you have questions about how composite fillings are a safe and better option than amalgam fillings, ask us at your next appointment!