“Will you do a post about amalgam fillings and curing tooth decay? What do you think about biological dentistry? How can I find a dentist with a holistic practice?” asks Michelle A.
In January of 2016, Michelle asked us these questions.
(By the way, we loving getting questions from our readers — they make us think!)
This is one of the most difficult topics I've ever written about, and I've done some doozies in the past!
To begin, Michelle, let's talk about the historical uses of mercury and what various countries are doing today, as well as the FDA's confusing response to mounting evidence against the safety of mercury in dental fillings.
These topics will pose a few more questions, which I will address in future posts.
Mercury In History
Mercury, commonly known as “quicksilver” (chemical symbol: Hg), has kindled legends since the ancient Greeks, Romans, Chinese, and Hindus. The word amalgam even means “alloy of mercury” in Latin.
Mercury’s hypnotic character has tempted man throughout history with promises of bestowing great power. The ancients also knew, however, that it was capable of striking with illness, tremors, and derangement. During Roman times, mercury mines doubled as penal institutions and greatly reduced the need for formal executions. (Source.)
In the 1800s, when mercuric nitrate was used in the felting process of the men's hat industry, mercury poisoning among hat makers spawned the phrase “mad as a hatter”. On December 1, 1941 the U.S. Public Health Service banned its use in the felt industry.
In the 1830s, European use of mercury dental amalgam was introduced to the United States. Dentists familiar with mercury's toxicity strongly objected to it — and members of the American Society of Dental Surgeons signed a pledge never to use it in 1845.
However, since gold was the only (expensive) alternative, mercury amalgam became the poor man's substitute. Patients would walk out of the office without immediate signs of poisoning, and so problems were simply swept under the rug.
In 1914, methylmercury was used on a worldwide scale as an important crop fungicide. Mass farm worker poisonings and several large-scale food poisoning incidents shortly followed. The United States banned its use on crops.
Workers and their children at the Staco thermometer plant experienced headaches in addition to digestive and neurological problems. This all arose from mercury poisoning their air, clothing, furniture, and bodies. The Vermont plant closed in 1984, and several lawsuits were settled between Staco and the state.
In 2008, 13 states introduced laws to limit the manufacture, sale, and/or distribution of mercury fever thermometers.
Also in 2008, Norway and Sweden banned all manufactured, imported, exported, or sold mercury-containing products used in their countries — including dental amalgam fillings.
On January 19, 2013, the Mianmata Convention, named for the Japanese town poisoned by mercury pollution, was ratified. It seeks to phase out the use of mercury and control its release into the atmosphere, soil, and water. 23 countries have signed it so far.
The Use Of Mercury In The Dental Industry Today
All but one of the historical references mentioned above resulted in the termination of mercury's use. Yet, the remaining use of mercury in the dental industry, at least in the United States, garners many stalwart defenders in the dental industry's professional association and the FDA.
“The American Dental Association (ADA) agrees with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision not to place any restriction on the use of dental amalgam, a commonly used cavity-filling material” (source).
The FDA states that amalgam is safe for anyone over the age of 6. The ADA goes on to support amalgam as a “valuable, viable and safe choice” for dental patients.
However, the FDA also announces they are still reevaluating available information on amalgam and promise to post updates when necessary.
They state amalgam does pose risks because it does contain mercury. It does release mercury vapor that can be inhaled and absorbed in the lungs and body.
Mercury is bio-accumulative, especially in the kidneys and brain. This means mercury builds up faster than we can excrete it.
Mixed Messages From The FDA
In 2009, the FDA reclassified amalgam from a Class I (least) risk to a Class II (moderate) risk. The highest risk level is Class III.
The FDA also developed a special document identifying potential risks — including mercury exposure, toxicity, and adverse tissue reaction.
While the FDA is vague about the potential risks to pregnant women, unborn children, or the very young, it does advise people to talk to their dentist about any concerns they may have. Unfortunately, as their policy states, any ADA dentist is likely to dismiss concerns over amalgam safety.
Furthermore, the FDA admits that mercury found in breast milk can be attributed to amalgam fillings in the mother. They admit that more research must be done to assess its safety.
Despite needed proof of safety, the FDA has decided that “infants are not at risk for adverse health effects from the mercury in breast milk of women exposed to mercury vapor from dental amalgam” (source).
The FDA does not say whether chronic, long-term exposure to small amounts of mercury vapor puts anyone at risk, or how chronic low-dose exposure effects one's health — especially for certain population subsets with greater genetic sensitivity, liver or kidney disease, or an already compromised immune system.
In the next several articles we will explore these questions in-depth:
What do the alternative and general scientific health communities say about mercury toxicity? How can we protect ourselves and our children from the well-known effects of mercury exposure?
What do you know about the use of mercury in amalgam fillings?
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