If you notice a small area of blue, grey or black discolouration in your mouth, it could be an 'amalgam tattoo'. But what are these strange marks, and are they harmful to your health? Read on to find out more.
What is an amalgam tattoo?
Amalgam tattoos are usually noticed as small grey, black or blue spots in the mouth. If you've ever had amalgam (metal) fillings or crowns fitted to your teeth, you might discover one of these marks on your gums, lips, tongue, cheek or palate.
The 'tattoos' contain tiny particles of metal from your fillings that have become embedded in the soft tissue inside your mouth. Amalgam tattoos contain minute fragments of tin, mercury, copper, silver and zinc. If you have a filling on the outside of one of your teeth, it may rub against your cheek depositing tiny particles of metal over time to form a tattoo.
Are amalgam tattoos dangerous to your health?
Amalgam tattoos in themselves are not dangerous and won't harm your health. They aren't painful and you probably won't even realise you have one unless your dentist or hygienist discovers it during a routine visit. Amalgam tattoos are permanent unless you decide to have them removed.
However, it's a good idea to get marks like these checked out promptly by your dentist, especially if they change colour or shape, become larger or painful. Such changes could be indicative of the presence of precancerous cells in your mouth. Your dentist will be able to make a preliminary diagnosis and, if necessary, will refer you to an appropriate specialist.
How does the dentist diagnose amalgam tattoos?
An experienced dentist will be able to spot an amalgam tattoo fairly easily. To be sure, he will check your dental records to see if you've ever had amalgam fillings and may carry out an X-ray. If the metal particles are large enough, they will show up on the X-ray image.
If your dentist is concerned that the blue/black mark in your mouth is not an amalgam tattoo, he will refer you to a specialist for a biopsy. A biopsy involves removing a small piece of tissue from the affected area and examining it under laboratory conditions.
Can amalgam tattoos be removed?
If the amalgam tattoo is in an obvious place, such as on your lip or tongue, you may want to have it removed. A special laser is used to fragment the particles of metal which effectively destroys the tattoo. The metal particles may come out through your skin or be removed from your body naturally.
If you have specific questions about the health of your mouth or teeth, contact a dentist with a practice like Comprehensive Dental Care.Share