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Amalgam Tattoos And What Can Be Done?

When we hear the term “tattoo,” the first thing that comes to mind is intentionally acquired permanent body art. An amalgam tattoo is neither art nor does it have to be permanent. This type of tattoo is an unintentional blemish caused by the degrading of a dental amalgam filling. The materials that make up this decaying amalgam include copper, tin, silver, and mercury. When fragments of these materials take up residence in our cheek, gums, or lip, an amalgam tattoo is formed. They often appear as a smooth blemish that is black, blue, or gray. Sometimes these blemishes appear as irregularly spaced patches of metal. In others, they appear as brown or black pieces that tend to follow the path of nerves and blood vessels. While they often appear near the amalgam site, they can form anywhere in the mouth.

Why Do Amalgam Tattoos Form And What Can Be Done?

There are a few common reasons that an amalgam tattoo may form. The most common reason is an accidental deposit that forms during drilling. This deposit occurs because the amalgam is flaking off and presses into the gums near the drilling site. Scrapes and lesions in that area can increase the chance of these forming. Similarly, they can form as the result of flakes coming off as the final amalgam is being polished or when they’re being removed. While amalgam fillings can last 10-15 years after being placed, they need to be replaced. In the rarest cases, the amalgam may splinter, working its way through the tooth to penetrate the gums near the restoration. These concerns are part of the driving force behind amalgam fillings falling out of favor in the dental industry. Modern dentistry tends to lean towards using composite fillings over amalgams. Their plasticity, resilience, and ability to be color-matched to your natural enamel color make them the superior choice.

The markings that appear with an amalgam tattoo are often mistaken for oral cancer, but several symptoms reveal the difference.

  • Swelling
  • Ulcers
  • Dentures that no longer fit
  • Pain
  • Strange pigmentation patterns with asymmetrical or irregular borders

It’s important to remember that amalgam tattoos will typically appear near the dental restoration site. Conversely, oral cancer typically shows up near the palate or the inner portions of the sinus cavity. A common diagnosis method for amalgam tattoos is dental imaging using x-rays. The x-rays will reveal the presence of significant metal deposits in your oral tissues. In cases where the amalgam fragments are fine enough, exploratory methods may have to be used to find them.

Ask Your Dental Provider About Amalgam Tattoos

If you’ve noticed grey or black markings appearing in your oral cavity, speak to your dental provider. They can help you determine if these are signs of an amalgam tattoo or from another source. You must have these inspected by a professional as the survival rate for oral cancer drops sharply if not caught early. If an amalgam tattoo is identified, your dentist can take steps to remove the discoloration and the metal fragments responsible.

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