Dental fillings have been around for thousands of years, though they used to be very different from modern amalgam or white fillings. Here, our Edmonton dentists talk about the history of dental fillings, and why we’re so lucky to live with modern dentistry.
Humans have been using fillings for millennia. The oldest evidence found of dental fillings dates back nearly 13,000 years, seemingly made of a material known as Bitumen.
It appears that this person was in pain (probably from necrotic or infected tooth pulp deep inside the tooth), and while seeking relief, intentionally enlarged the cavities, scraped out the decayed tissue and filled the hole with bitumen.
In another case 6500-year-old fillings, made from beeswax, were found in the remains of a young man, located in a cave in Italy. He was likely using his teeth to perform a task other than eating and injured them.
Over the years, many different materials were used to fill cavities in teeth, including cork, aluminum, tin, and even asbestos. None of these materials were particularly effective and did little or nothing to prevent decay or pain.
A medical text in China, dated from about 700 B.C, mentions using a ‘silver paste’ to fill a tooth, but metal fillings did not gain significant popularity until the 19th century.
In the 19th century, people began using a variety of metals, such as silver, tin, and gold, to fill cavities. Amalgam fillings were introduced and became common. However, these amalgam fillings were quite different from those used today.
At the time, amalgams consisted of copper, tin, silver, and mercury. Concerns about the use of mercury soon arose, due to its ineffectiveness as a filling material and the negative health effects it had on the body, such as mercury poisoning, cancer, and multiple sclerosis.
Modern amalgam fillings are much safer. While they still contain mercury, it is chemically bound to the other metals, significantly decreasing the amount absorbed by the body.
In fact, the amount of mercury exposure from modern fillings is less than that absorbed daily through the air, water, and food.
Amalgam fillings are now considered very safe, and are also a flexible and durable filling material, making them ideal for molars.
Modern fillings can also be made from a variety of other materials, including porcelain, gold, and composite substances. All these materials have been proven safe and long-lasting,and can be applied in sterile conditions with minimal discomfort to the patient.