With the media constantly loaded with cancer scare stories, finding a dark spot anywhere on your body can be a thoroughly distressing affair, and any mysterious discolouration of your skin should be checked out by medical professionals to rule out serious problems. Finding a dark spot on the inside of your mouth can be particularly unnerving, and you should book an appointment with your dentist as soon as possible if you find one.
However, if you have one of more fillings made of traditional amalgams, a dark spot inside your mouth may be completely unrelated to your health. Instead, it may be what dentists call an 'amalgam tattoo'.
What are amalgam tattoos?
Dental amalgam refers to the metal alloy that is traditionally used to create fillings, and under ordinary circumstances this amalgam will stay firmly within the filling. However, amalgam can also enter the soft tissues of your mouth and gums in a number of ways, either by leaking out of a damaged filling or becoming impregnated in the soft tissues by a filled tooth rubbing against an area of soft tissue. Amalgam dust can also be impregnated in your mouth's soft tissues during the filling process, especially if high-speed drills are used.
These particles corrode over time, causing the affected skin and or gum to discolour and take on a blue-grey hue. The resulting discolouration is known as an amalgam tattoo.
Are amalgam tattoos dangerous?
As you'd expect for a substance that is routinely placed inside patient's mouths, dental amalgam is completely non-toxic and hypoallergenic, and an amalgam tattoo is both benign and painless. Many dental patients may have amalgam tattoos in less visible areas of their mouths that they are completely unaware of.
However, the localised discolouration caused by amalgam tattoos can resemble much more serious problems, such as a malignant melanoma or subcutaneous hemorrhage. Consequently, any dark spot you find within your mouth should be thoroughly inspected by a dentist as quickly as possible, even if you have amalgam fillings and are reasonably certain the discolouration is an amalgam tattoo.
Can amalgam tattoos be removed?
Since amalgam tattoos do not cause any pain or health problems, and are very rarely visible to people other than yourself and your dentist, most people with amalgam tattoos are happy to leave them be. However, if your amalgam tattoo is located in a particularly visible spot, such as at the front of your gums, you can have the tattoo removed.
You have two options when it comes to amalgam tattoo removal. The first is dental surgery, during which your dentist will either excise the affect portion of flesh or graft a small piece of unaffected flesh from elsewhere in your mouth over the darkened area. These surgeries are minimally invasive, and should heal quickly with only mild pain.
A more modern alternative is to destroy the amalgam embedded in the soft tissue using a low-intensity laser, that obliterates the dark amalgam without causing damage to the flesh it is impregnated within. Under most circumstances, this process is completely painless, and you will be able to eat, drink and speak normally very quickly after the treatment is complete.