The most controversial issue in dentistry is once again in the media after the FDA recently announced that silver-colored metal dental fillings (amalgam fillings) contain mercury that may cause health problems in pregnant women, children, and fetuses. Recent studies have argued that although the fillings release mercury, the amounts released are not considered dangerous. A panel of the World Health Organization, on the other hand, says that no such level exists, and many dentists, physicians, and politicians maintain that the amounts of mercury being released can be detrimental.
Forty to fifty percent of current amalgam fillings are composed of mercury. The vapor is released through gum chewing, teeth grinding, and braces. For example, the mercury level in the mouth of someone with amalgam fillings after chewing gum is elevated eight to ten times higher than normal, sometimes for up to an hour and a half! Comparatively, people without amalgam fillings have no change in mercury level in their mouth after chewing gum.
These fillings can potentially do damage to the immune system, kidneys, or brain. Mercury also crosses the placenta during pregnancy and may contaminate breast milk. Canada banned mercury fillings in pregnant women in 1996, and the UK banned amalgam for pregnant women in 1998.
With all of the precautions people take to avoid fish with high levels of mercury (tuna, for example) it is important to note that the mercury absorption from silver fillings can be four times higher than that from fish consumption, although it does vary among people.
Amalgam fillings arrive at the dentist’s office with the poison label on it, next to a label that reads, “POISON, CONTAINS METALLIC MERCURY.” Amalgam manufacturers warn dentists not to use their products on pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, or anyone with kidney disease. Labeled as a poison and affixed with these warnings, why hasn’t the FDA banned amalgam outright in favor of the healthier, and nearly invisible, alternatives, such as composite fillings?
By Ms. Annabelle Moore with Dr. Natalie Geary