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Dental amalgam which is also known as silver filling is one of the dental filling materials that are used for restoring the structure of a decayed tooth. This filling material is made up of liquid mercury, which forms half of the compound containing silver, and copper. Mercury is used in dental amalgam because it makes the filling material easy to apply. When mercury is mixed with an alloy powder, it forms a soft compound that can easily be pressed into a decayed tooth. Mercury also hardens faster and makes the mixture strong.
Although it contains mercury that is harmful, “dental amalgam has often been used for treating patients with dental problems” (Virijhoef 13). The proponents of this mechanism of dental filling argue that the level of mercury released from the amalgam is little and cannot affect individuals who have undergone dental amalgam filling. This can prompt an individual to ask why many nations apply strict measures on the disposal of the amalgam wastes. The proponents of these measures contend that amalgam wastes contain mercury, which can obliterate the environment as well as humans. Consequently, the application of dental amalgam has been seriously debated by both health practitioners and policy developers, and they have adopted different perspectives about its safety to the patients and environment. In my view, dental amalgam has the potential of causing many health related problems; hence, it should be abolished.
Several concerns have been raised over the use of amalgam because it contains mercury, which is harmful to body organs such the kidneys and the brain. Initially, it was believed that mercury is not released once the filling procedure is complete. However, “extensive research reveals that as the amalgam wears off small amounts of mercury in form of vapor is released which can be inhaled or ingested” (Stortebecker 56). Mercury vapor can adversely affect an individual’s organs.
Apart from this, if a breast feeding woman undergoes this method of dental filling, the mercury from the amalgam can be transferred to the mammary gland. Hence, a breast feeding child can be affected by the amalgam waste. Amalgam can also affect pregnant woman since the mercury can be transferred through the placenta into the fetus. This can interfere with the development of the fetus. Nonetheless, some experts contend that the level of mercury in such cases is often low and cannot cause any harm to the fetus.
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There are individuals who are allergic to mercury and other metals used in making dental amalgam. When such individuals undergo dental amalgam treatment, they can develop oral lesions or other reactions. This also makes the use and safety of dental amalgam questionable.
Another concern raised against the application of this substance is its potential of causing environmental pollution since it contains mercury. If amalgam waste is poorly disposed, it can cause air or water pollution. When amalgam waste is released into sewers, it can form sewage sludge. Inmost cases sewage sludge is usually disposed in land fills. Alternatively, it can be disposed through incineration, or it may be applied as fertilizer. When sewage sludge containing amalgam waste is used as fertilizer, it can still evaporate to the atmosphere and interfere with environment. “If the sewage sludge is incinerated, mercury will still be released into the atmosphere” (Eley 45). Finally, dumping of sludge in land fills leads to contamination of underground water. Much of the mercury which contaminates waste water is usually derived from dental sources. Therefore, poorly disposed mercury endangers the ecosystem.
The concerns mentioned above make the use and safety of dental amalgam questionable. However, dental amalgam exhibits some advantages that make it suitable for dental treatment. For instance, it is long lasting since it does not break easily. On the contrary, mercury expands and contracts, hence, leading to tooth damage. In addition to this, as the amalgam wares off, bacteria and fluids can seep under the filling.
Another benefit of dental amalgam is that it is cheaper compared to other filling materials. This brings into mind the old adage that cheap is expensive. It may be considered cheap, but the harm it may cause to the body organs can be adverse, and this may make one incur more expenses compared to other filling materials.
SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM OF DENTAL AMALGAM CONTROVERSY
A number of measures can be taken to help solve this problem. First, environmental pollution stemming from amalgam waste can be prevented by ensuring that dentists use dental separators to prevent excess amalgam wastes from being released directly into sewage systems. In this case, regulations should be put in place to prohibit the release of such wastes into surface waters. Campaigns can also be carried out to sensitize dentists on how to safely dispose the dental amalgam wastes.
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Secondly, dentists should consider using alternative dental filling technique such as resin composite, gold alloys and porcelain. These methods are not harmful to human health. These alternatives can also be helpful to individuals allergic to the components of dental amalgam. Breast feeding mothers and pregnant women should apply other mechanisms of dental fillings, but nor dental amalgam. Lastly, patients who have undergone dental amalgam filling should not consider removing them because it will further expose them to mercury vapor released during the removal process.
Based on the above arguments, dental amalgam is not the best option for dental filling. Therefore, patients should consider using other filling materials. Through this strategy, we shall not only avoid body complications, but also protect other living organisms and the environment at large. By embracing other dental filling materials, dentists will not be exposed to the risks associated with handling mercury. Lastly, “various countries should abolish the use of dental amalgam due to its adverse effect on human health and the environment” (Bindsle 67).