What is dental amalgam?
Amalgam is a dental filling material used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. It has been used for more than 150 years in hundreds of millions of patients around the world.
Dental amalgam is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid (elemental) mercury and a powdered alloy composed of sliver, tin, and copper. Approximately 50% of dental amalgam is elemental mercury by weight. The chemical properties of elemental mercury allow it to react with and bind together the silver/copper/tin alloy particles to form an amalgam.
Dental amalgam fillings are also known as "silver fillings" because of their sliver-like appearance. Despite the name, "silver fillings" do contain elemental mercury.
Image of a capsule containing liquid mercury and amalgam putty. When placing dental amalgam, the dentist first drills the tooth to remove the decay and then shapes the tooth cavity for placement of the amalgam filling. Next, under appropriate safety conditions, the dentist mixes the powdered alloy with the liquid mercury to form an amalgam putty. (These components are provided to the dentist in a capsule as shown in the graphic.) This softened amalgam putty is placed and shaped in the prepared cavity, where it rapidly hardens into a solid filling.
Benefits: Dental amalgam fillings are strong and long-lasting, so they are less likely to break than some other types of fillings.
Dental amalgam is the least expensive type of filling material.