You’ve been brushing and flossing diligently ever since you were
a kid, but it’s inevitable: Every now and then a cavity pops up,
and you have to go in for a dreaded filling. Now your uppers and lowers
have silver spots that shine at you in the mirror each morning. Are these
kinds of fillings safe? Should you replace them with something less noticeable?
And while you’re thinking about your teeth, do home whitening products work?
Read on for answers to common questions about fillings and whitening. Ask
your dentist for details when you go in for your next cleaning.
What is an amalgam filling? Does it contain mercury? Millions of Americans have received amalgam fillings over the last century;
these silver-colored fillings are the most effective and durable way to
fill a cavity. The amalgam is made out of several types of metals, including
small amounts of mercury. Mercury adds temporary pliability, which helps
the dentist fill the cavity and shape the filling to your tooth. Mercury
is a toxin that releases vapor; controversies have arisen over the years
about whether fillings release mercury vapor in dangerous quantities.
Are there alternatives to amalgam? The most common alternative is composite resin, the filling type you are
thinking about if you’re considering a white or “tooth-colored”
option. Made from a mix of acrylics and powdered glass, a resin filling
can be custom-colored to blend in with the rest of your teeth, but it
isn’t as durable as amalgam. It is easy for the dentist to work
with and looks natural, but it’s only appropriate for small fixes.
Should I get my amalgam fillings replaced? The mainstream scientific community, from the Food and Drug Administration
to the American Dental Association, agrees that amalgam fillings are safe
and stable and do not have to be replaced. Any mercury released is in
very low levels—lower levels than most of us are exposed to in food
and the environment. Numerous studies have confirmed over many years that
amalgam fillings are safe for adults and children ages six and older.
Replacing a good amalgam filling isn’t recommended unless there
is damage or decay underneath. You will end up losing healthy parts of
the tooth when the filling is drilled out.
What should I consider before whitening my teeth? It’s a good idea to talk to your dentist before taking on at-home
whitening; you’ll get better results if you’re caught up on
cleanings and your gums are healthy. Follow the directions; don’t
leave strips or gels on for longer than the recommended times. Over-the-counter
tooth whiteners are safe and effective for short-term results, but for
a longer-lasting gleam, professional tooth whitening is best. Your dentist
uses stronger and faster-acting treatments. Women who are pregnant should
ask their doctor before whitening.
What should I do if my teeth are
sensitive after whitening? Your teeth may be extra-sensitive for a few days after whitening. If the
bleaching agents in home-use products are causing painful sensitivity
to heat or cold, give your teeth a rest and stop treatment until the discomfort
stops. You may want to switch to toothpaste for sensitive teeth.