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Dental Insurance Covers Mercury Amalgams

Jenny Decker RN's picture
Mercury Amalgams

Recently the FDA released information about mercury amalgams for tooth fillings. The FDA stated that mercury amalgams were safe for adults and children aged 6 and older. The FDA put the amalgams in a Class II, meaning that they have moderate risk. However, it is important to understand that even though this came up from a Class I, which is low risk, the new classification allows the FDA to have some special controls. Many dentists still use the mercury amalgams and insurance companies love them because they are cheap, especially compared to alternatives.

Mercury amalgams contain a form of mercury called elemental mercury. Elemental mercury can only give off low levels of vapor to be inhaled. This type of mercury is used in dental fillings because it binds the powdered alloy made of silver, tin, and copper. The filling is then very strong and durable. Because the mercury is liquid at room temperature (being the only metal that is) it bonds well with the alloy. This is considered to be a very important part of the amalgam and contributes to the durability. Plus, because of the durability and cost efficiency, dental insurance prefers to cover the mercury amalgams over other methods used.

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While many are very concerned about the effects to the brain and neurological system, its helps to clarify that there are different chemical forms of mercury. Elemental mercury is the form used in dental amalgams. It releases a vapor that is absorbed by the lungs. The mercury in fish is called methylmercury and it is absorbed through the digestive tract. The body handles these types of mercury in different manners. Methylmercury is the toxic form of mercury affecting the brain and neurological systems. Elemental mercury levels in the body from dental amalgams are well below the levels that the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.

In order to evaluate the safety of dental amalgams, the FDA did a deep intense review of over 200 peer-reviewed studies on the safety of the mercury amalgams so emphasized by dental insurance companies. The review of the mercury amalgams took place over several years. The controversy is so deep that the FDA wanted to be absolutely sure that the public was safe. To date, there is no evidence to link mercury amalgams to toxic levels in the body and adverse side effects. This includes those who are breastfeeding and their babies, children, and pregnant women. Even those with many fillings have been found to be far below levels considered to be safe.

There are several alternatives to the dental amalgams. These include composite resin fillings, glass ionomer cement fillings, and gold foil fillings. The composite resin filling is the most commonly used, possibly because it is white and close to actual tooth color. They are made of plastic that is reinforced with powdered glass. These fillings are not very durable and may need to be replaced frequently. They also cost more than other fillings, which we all know that dental insurance frowns on. The glass ionomer cement fillings are made from an acrylic resin and some glass that release fluoride over time. These are best used for small restorations. Gold foil fillings are used to restore cavities that are on biting surfaces. They are strong and durable, however they are expensive and they do not match natural tooth color.

The FDA does not recommend having mercury amalgams removed if they are in good condition. Removal may result in taking part of the healthy tooth structure and destroying it. It also releases more mercury vapor when it is removed. Those with allergies or sensitivities should consider talking with their dentist. Dental insurance will definitely be encouraging the use of these dental amalgams now that the FDA has stated that they are relatively safe.