Silver or aestetic dental fillings?

The Minamata convention set an ambitious goal: to completely eradicate the commercial use of mercury globally. Most countries have signed on, and there have been many notable steps taken to enforce the decisions that have been reached at this world changing summit. Here is the lowdown on what the dental industry has been doing to eradicate its unhappy marriage with mercury, a top pollutant and incredibly destructive heavy metal.



Mercury in dentistry - fillings to change

Mercury is primarily used to make amalgam fillings, which are now considered extremely out of date. These fillings are made of an alloy that uses silver, tin, mercury, cobalt and a host of trace elements as well.

Alternatives to amalgam fillings

Most fillings nowadays are made from a composite resin, and are tooth coloured or so called ‘white fillings’, which contain no mercury at all. Another alternative to amalgam tooth fillings is glass ionomer fillings. This is made of a very special kind of burnt and liquefied glass ionomer, and this material hardens and sticks to the tooth surfaces much more effectively than amalgam or white fillings. So these two alternatives to amalgam fillings exist, and require no mercury. But are they being used globally?

Obstacles to overcome

The answer is, sadly, no. In most third world countries, mercury based amalgam fillings are still the number one go to dental filling material. Why? Because other kinds of filling materials are not available, and thus the people of these regions are stuck with subpar, environmentally unstable materials to work with (this is sadly true not just of dental filling materials). The price of composite fillings is simply too high, and once the Minamata convention has effectively devalued mercury and amalgam fillings, they can now be sold for very cheap by Western nations to the Third world. So it seems that in a very real way, greed is the main obstacle to environmental protection.

How we can fix it

The easiest way to fix this situation is to provide the materials and techniques free of charge, or at a very little profit to the people who are still using mercury. Because simply enforcing the ban on Mercury will mean that poor people will be left without fillings. The techniques and materials need to be shared globally in order to successfully uphold the Minamata convention.       

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