Minimize Your Exposure to Mercury in Dental Fillings
Amalgam dental fillings are used in millions of Americans each year to fill cavities despite the fact that they contain mercury, a highly toxic substance known to cause neurological damage and a host of other health problems, especially in vulnerable patients. Dental amalgam is an alloy of 50% elemental mercury and 50% other metals, mostly silver with some tin and copper. The elemental mercury in amalgam dental fillings is hazardous due to its potential to release small amounts of mercury vapor over time which the patient absorbs through inhalation or ingestion, causing serious long term health consequences.
Signs of ingestion-related mercury poisoning include
- skin itching , burning, or peeling
- skin discoloration and rashes
- pink cheeks, lips, nose and toes
- loss of hair, teeth and nails
- profuse sweating
- increased heart rate
- increased salivation
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
Mercury poisoning has serious health consequences including kidney dysfunction, neurological damage that can cause mood swings, irritability and excessive shyness, neuromuscular impairment (muscle weakness and twitching), memory impairment, impaired cognitive function, headache and insomnia. The effects are pronounced for an unborn fetus, it has been demonstrated that high levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn. Mercury and other heavy metals are dangerous toxins because they do not get efficiently eliminated from the human body, leading to accumulation in the blood. The long term health effects silently manifest and surface years later once the toxins have accumulated, leading to other complications and severely weakening the immune system.
There are several non-mercury restorative dental filling materials available. Presently, there are five other types of restorative materials.
- resin composite
- glass ionomer
- resin ionomer
- gold alloys
The FDA is currently reviewing the scientific evidence on the safe use of amalgam. During a two-day public meeting earlier this week, dental patients, advocacy groups and some dentists urged the Food and Drug Administration’s panel of outside advisers to ban mercury fillings or initiate stronger warnings advising of the toxic effects of the metal, especially for children and pregnant women. Some dentists testified that they no longer use mercury because it is too risky. Dozens of patients described how their health deteriorated after getting amalgam fillings. The panel concluded that there is not enough data to rule out the possibility that a small but significant number of people might be at risk from exposure to mercury in the fillings. For more details on the FDA panel see articles “Critics to U.S. panel: ban amalgam dental fillings” and “FDA Panel Urges Thorough Review of Mercury-Based Fillings“.
Other sources of mercury poisoning include the ingestion of fish, particularly whale and dolphin meat, which contain methylmercury. Contamination of this sort is caused by environmental pollution which eventually settles into land and water. Controllable mercury released into the environment is caused by coal ash and believe it or not – mercury from dental amalgam! According to Medicine.Net, mercury from dental amalgam is a major source of controllable mercury released to the environment and likely will remain a significant concern into the future. Mercury from dental amalgam is released into the environment primarily through three different pathways:
- Human wastewater
- Human solid waste
- Via cremation of human bodies containing dental amalgam
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consumer update on dental amalgam advises, as a precaution, that pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure should discuss dental treatment options with their health care practitioner. For more information on environmental releases of mercury from dental amalgam, see EPA’s page on Mercury in Dental Amalgam.