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Mercury Fillings: Are they safe?

Mercury as a toxin is old news. We’ve been alerted: it’s in our fish, in our water, and in our air. It’s been removed from paint. Mercurial chrome is no longer used to heal cuts. When an old thermometer breaks, or a high school science lab has an accidental spill, the area is treated like a radioactive site.

The only place mercury seems to continue showing up is in fillings. Is that such a good thing?

The Problem with Mercury Fillings
Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, and Japan have all banned or regulated the use of amalgams in dental fillings due to public health concerns. In the U.S., amalgam use is unrestricted. While most dentist offices have switched to modern practices using resin composites or porcelain, “assembly line” dentists generally located in lower-income areas, Appalachia, and Native American reservations still opt to treat their patients’ cavities with the lower-cost mercury or amalgam fillings. The upside to continuing amalgam use: The silver fillings are less expensive because they are easy and quick to insert, making it possible to fill more cavities daily.

The American Dental Association (ADA) maintains that there are no controlled studies that demonstrate systematic adverse effects from amalgam restorations. The Center for Disease Control and Federal Drug Association (FDA) report that the decline in amalgam use is due to the decrease in popularity for the material and stronger substitutes. But Charles Brown, a DC-based lawyer for the Coalition for Mercury-Free Dentistry, points out that mercury is actually more toxic than arsenic and lead, and argues that having it in our mouths is risky. “It kills you in enough quantity. It’s in your mouth for years. Its vapors are coming off much more rapidly than other metals because it’s already liquid,” he explains. Mercury accumulates and does not leave the body quickly. “Most things you sweat out. Mercury clumps. It’s a neural toxin. It harms the brain permanently.”

The Fight to Ban Mercury Fillings
Completely nixing oral mercury use hasn’t been so easy. Currently, California, Connecticut, and Maine have issued mandates that require dentists to give patients a risk sheet, and in April 2006, the FDA announced it would hold public hearings about “potential mercury toxicity,” but amalgams remain legal.

“The FDA should be protecting us,” says Brown. “The Zogby poll reports that only twenty-five percent of people could identify the major component of amalgams that dentists use is mercury. The ADA does not want people to know that it is mercury. It is to protect dentistry. And the ADA has engineered a cover up for decades, all for money.”

Dental amalgams have been used for over 150 years, making it one of the oldest dental materials. According to Boyd Haley, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Kentucky and a major voice in mercury-free dentistry, no study has ever tested for the amount of mercury coming off fillings. “They take the word of the manufacturing companies and the ADA. If you go to the ADA site it will say, FDA approved. It is a circle. The FDA caters to the manufactures, the professional organizations and unions, rather than protect the health of the people.”

What Mercury Does To You
A neural toxin, mercury threatens the brain. General forgetfulness and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) are common clues to mercury overexposure; Lisa Marie Presley claimed she suffered from CFS until she had her amalgams removed. Mercury overexposure can cause central nervous system dysfunction and a suppressed immune system. Haley describes high levels of mercury in the body as, “a biochemical train wreck” and lists short temper, shaking, tremors, fatigue, dementia, vision restrictions, and impairment as symptoms. “Mercury prevents food from going to energy,” Haley explains. Another scary piece of info: if you have amalgam fillings in you mouth, and you live in an old apartment or house with old paint, the combination of both mercury locations intensifies the toxicity.

Haley says there is no cell type that isn’t toxic to mercury, that it is lethal to all cells, at all levels. Neurons are particularly sensitive. Mercury can stop neuron transmission even if it doesn’t kill it. “According to the ADA the only safe place for the amalgam is your mouth. That is preposterous,” says Haley. “Mercury vapor is released when we brush or chew. Mercury vapors are absorbed by the lungs and accumulate in the body. Half of our daily exposure to mercury may come from fillings. Do you think it is a good idea to breathe in mercury released every second in your mouth for forty or fifty years?”

Dr. Ray Behm, a metal-free dentist in Clearwater, Florida, says the safest replacements for amalgams are metal-free resins or composites that match the ivory color of teeth. He uses Diamond Crown from DRM for fillings. For crowns, he prefers Sculpture Fiberkor. Dr. Behm sees no reason to use metal in the mouth. Non-metal materials are strong enough to handle any scenario, he says. He isn’t a fan of porcelain either. “It’s a glass product and has aluminum in it. It doesn’t qualify as being metal-free.”If you are removing your amalgams, take care. “You need advice from a mercury-free dentist. No one should get it taken out by someone who is still putting it in,” says Brown. “If that dentist does not respect the toxicity involved with putting it in, he won’t for taking it out.” Behm adds that dentists have to be careful, too, because removing mercury can put them at risk for exposure. And both Brown and Behm stress that pregnant and breastfeeding women should not have their amalgams removed because the mercury exposure resulting from the process goes straight to the fetus.

While some dentists do advertise themselves as mercury free, the ADA polices that distinction. SustainLane’s green business directory includes listings for many holistic dentists and mercury free dentists who can advise you.

Removing the filling does not get rid of all the mercury that has built up, and patients often follow a detox process afterwards. Some practitioners use supplements, diet, colonics, and sweat therapies. Chelation therapy is sometimes used as well.

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