Update: Recently, the FDA concluded that mercury filling have safety issues, see this news story.
Sweden, Denmark and Norway have banned them. Germany and Austria have discouraged use. Yet, in the United States, dental amalgams, the “silver” fillings that have been commonly used in dental practices for decades, are still used frequently as an inexpensive and popular treatment for cavities. Many consumers are unaware that the metal fillings in their teeth are comprised of 50% mercury, a known, proven neurotoxin.
Turn on the news or pick up a newspaper and you’re likely to see a report on the dangers of eating fish because of the levels of toxic mercury they contain. Many consumers are limiting the amount of fish they eat each week because of the danger the mercury level presents, yet have a mouth full of fillings that are damaging to their health. To make a comparison between fish and mercury fillings, an average amalgam contains 0.5 grams of mercury, according to Britain’s Daily Mail. One half of a gram doesn’t seem like much, but if that amount of mercury was found in a 10-acre lake, a warning about eating the fish found in it would result. And, according to a World Health Organization study, the absorption of mercury from amalgams is four times higher than the absorption from fish consumption.
Even still, the FDA’s latest ruling, in 2009, found that amalgams were safe. FDA spokesperson Susan Runner, DDS, said, “The best available scientific evidence supports the conclusion that patients with dental amalgam fillings are not at risk for mercury-associated adverse health effects.” The American Dental Association agreed, despite the fact that it is proven that amalgams release mercury continuously from the time they are placed in the mouth. Simply chewing puts enough strain on the filling to cause a release of the mercury as vapor. Incidentally, it has been proven that there is no harmless level of mercury vapor exposure, as it is absorbed at a rate of 80% through the lungs into the arterial blood.
We worry about lead poisoning from our paint and arsenic poisoning from accidental ingestion of pesticides, but mercury is a more toxic substance than either one of those. Mercury from amalgams is stored principally in the kidneys, liver and brain and can cause severe problems from kidney damage to autoimmune diseases to Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, mercury has been linked to depletion of the immune system, a number of severe allergies and impairment of the reproductive system. Ironically, mercury can have negative effects on the mouth, as well. Exposure to the substance may lead to soft and spongy gums, loose teeth and mouth sores.
Infants and Children
As with many toxins, the greatest danger is to children and infants, especially fetuses. During pregnancy, it seems that mercury from amalgams travels to the fetus and is stored there before the mother, according to a study by MJ Vimy, a member of the medical faculty of the University of Calgary. In fact, eight times more mercury is stored in the fetus, and, later on, breast milk, than in the mother’s own tissues. Therefore, both fetuses and infants are at greater risk of side effects from their pregnant mother’s amalgam fillings than she is herself.
What You Can Do
The good news is, it’s fairly easy to remove and replace amalgams by a dental professional that is trained in amalgam removal. If you are already pregnant, however, it’s generally better to wait until after the pregnancy to remove the fillings, as the fetus could get a large, one-time dose of mercury vapor exposure that could be harmful. Today, many dentists have discontinued use of amalgam fillings not only because they are potentially harmful but also because there are other options available. White composite and porcelain filling materials serve the same purpose and, as an added bonus, blend with the teeth, whereas silver amalgams tend to be noticeable. The only drawback? These alternatives are more costly than amalgams, but are generally considered as effective long term without the possible health consequences.
If you’re thinking of replacing your old amalgams, consider this: patients who had amalgams removed have been cured of health problems such as fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Parkinson’s Disease. Multiple Sclerosis patients showed significant improvement in their symptoms.
The bottom line here is that there is no reason to put yourself at risk if you don’t have to. Talk to your dentist about creating a sensible plan to replace amalgams and, moving forward, look for alternatives to maintain both your smile and your health.