Alternatives to mercury dental fillings
December 16th, 2010
05:03 PM ET

Alternatives to mercury dental fillings

Mercury fillings have had a murky history. Used for more than a century, the American Dental Association says they're safe, but all you have to do is google "dangers of mercury fillings" to see that a whole host of people disagree.

Like the dentists' group, the Food and Drug Administration has said mercury fillings are safe, but now an FDA committee is advising a second look at the issue based on  new data.

While the FDA considers whether they want to mull over the safety of mercury fillings, we empowered patients can take action of our own.

First, read why the FDA thinks mercury (or amalgam) fillings are safe. If you're not convinced, you can ask your dentist for alternatives to mercury fillings, such as resin composite fillings. If your doctor still recommends mercury, ask why.

In some situations, mercury fillings are the best option, says Dr. Matthew Messina, an ADA spokesman. For example, if the filling is in a tooth that's difficult to keep dry, resin composite fillings might not work well since the filling needs a dry environment while it's being applied and cured.

But in many cases, an alternative should work. Messina says in 2003, the most recent year for which data is available, only 30% of patients received mercury fillings.

"The number of people who get them continues to fall because they're not the prettiest," Messina says. "Given the choice, people opt for something that looks more like teeth."

Beware a higher dental bill if you choose an alternative to mercury. At dental offices we called, a mercury filling for a medium-sized cavity costs about $175 and $225 for a composite. Your dental insurance might not pay for the more expensive type unless there's a reason you need it.

Your insurance also likely won't pay for you to get your mercury fillings yanked out just because you're worried about mercury toxicity, Messina says.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.