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Mercury Fillings Revisited

With little fanfare, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this week acknowledged on its Web site that mercury amalgam fillings -- the silvery material used for decades to plug cavities -- could be harmful.

This admission, which came after the FDA settled a lawsuit with several consumer advocacy groups, is huge, coming after years of official waffling. The agency has opened a period during which experts are invited to submit their comments. That period ends July 28; the agency is required by the terms of the legal settlement to issue a new rule regarding amalgam fillings in July 2009.

Amalgam is a blend of mercury, silver and other metals; when they bond together, the mercury is said to be rendered stable and unlikely to leach into your system. But lots of people beg to differ, saying the mercury not only is absorbed by the body but may cause neurological problems. Some believe mercury fillings trigger such disorders as multiple sclerosis, though research hasn't borne that out.

I'm a sucker for science, and when a scientist explains to me how mercury is made stable, I tend to believe what I'm hearing. On the other hand, I've often wondered: Does this mouthful of metal I've had since I was a cavity-ridden kid have anything to do with my own case of MS? Nobody knows for sure.

But the FDA's renewed consideration (technically, the agency has just reopened comment on a rule it proposed in 2002 regarding classification of amalgam fillings), at least, and at last, opens the door to more research and better understanding of mercury fillings.

We shouldn't be eager to dismiss amalgam too quickly, either. It's cheaper and more durable than other, composite filling materials. Some argue that if it were barred from use, lots of kids' cavities would go unfilled, particularly those in low-income families. And while nobody knows exactly now many people have had mercury fillings, the number is high -- and it appears that most haven't been harmed by them. For a thorough account of the controversy from a pro-amalgam point of view, check out what the Web site QuackWatch has to say.

For its part, the American Dental Association is sticking by amalgam fillings. In a statement issued yesterday, the ADA said:

"The American Dental Association (ADA) believes the recent settlement between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the group Moms Against Mercury simply sets a definite deadline (July 28, 2009) for the FDA to complete what it began in 2002 -- a reclassification process for dental amalgam, a commonly-used cavity filling material. As far as the ADA is aware, the FDA has in no way changed its approach to, or position on, dental amalgam.
Contrary to some assertions, the FDA's current reclassification proposal does not call for restrictions on the use of amalgam in any particular population group. It merely restates FDA's ongoing call for public comments on that issue, as well as the findings of the most current scientific studies on amalgam.

Neither the FDA nor the ADA recommends that people with mercury amalgam fillings have them removed. But I'm betting a lot of people will, anyway -- if they can find a sympathetic dentist, that is.

Do you have amalgam fillings? Are you worried about them?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  June 6, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Environmental Toxins  
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I have both types of fillings and I won't be replacing the amalgams any time soon unless it's unavoidable. I experienced a lot of sensitivity after the composite was placed that I didn't have with the amalgams, and I don't want to have to go through that again. I would also worry about inhaling heavy metal particulates during the removal process.

Posted by: BxNY | June 6, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I 'had' amalgam fillings. No I was not worried about them. I was worried about a lot of other things - I started to develop symptoms about 10 years ago that came and went until about 6 years ago when they came and stayed. At my worst, I had chronic gastrointestinal problems, multiple food allergies, chest pain, heart palpitations, burning, numbness and tingling in arms and legs, muscle pain, muscle weakness, bone popping, chronic fatigue, hair falling out, bleeding gums, headaches, vertigo, visual disturbances, hives, chronic yeast infections, cyst on top of my foot, and a blood disorder. I was sent from specialist to specialist (even to be checked for MS) treating each set of symptoms separately. I finally said 'this is all related - what is it! I ditched my doctors and went to an MD who tested me for heavy metals. Best thing I ever did - my mercury levels were sky high. I got my fillings out by 'safe method' (had a terrible reaction), but it has been straight uphill ever since. Most of my symptoms have gone, blood is even near normal again, cyst that I had for 3 years went away, hair grew back in. I only have a few residual symptoms left but am not done with chelation. I guess I should have been worried about those fillings. Not a happy ending yet though - my youngest son who has tremors, food allergies, chronic gastritis, and swollen lymph nodes just tested high for mercury (had dental work done during pregnancy - yes it does cross the placenta). We will get him well.

There are a lot more people affected than we realize. Most people just accept their diagnosis and accept the pharmaceutical of choice to deal with it. How many people are lucky enough to find a doctor who will think outside the box - especially when you have to pay yourself for these tests that fall outside the parameters of 'standard of care'. After everything I have been through, I know I am one of of the lucky ones. I am now well.

Posted by: BJM | June 8, 2008 12:29 AM | Report abuse

I have two amalgam fillings, and I've had them for about two years. Absolutely no medical problems.

My mother and father both have their mouths full of amalgam fillings, and neither of them have had any medical problems out of the ordinary for a couple of sedentary 50 somethings.

We've finally acknowledged that BPA in polycarbonate and can liners can have dangerous health effects. I want to see studies of the chemicals used in composite fillings before we decide that they're safer than composite fillings, which have been used for over a century, and are in the mouths of millions, if not billions, of people.

Posted by: Gelf | June 9, 2008 10:00 PM | Report abuse

that should read "...safer than AMALGAM fillings."

Posted by: Gelf | June 9, 2008 10:01 PM | Report abuse

I have had several Amalgam fillings removed about 5 years ago. I know there is a special process in the removal of such fillings to prevent the product from being injested, however that was not utilized with me. Approximately two to three weeks after the removal of my fillings, I started experiencing neurologial problems...hence, my diagnosis with MS - Multiple Sclerosis. I find it strange that in my 35 years, I have never experienced any odd symptoms, but as soon as I had my fillings life changed regretfully. I can not say with absolute certainty that this is what has caused my MS, but I would like to err of the safer side until more research has been done to either confirm or deny the accusations of mercury and neurological problems. I hope more people will think twice about interrupting the fillings, if they aren't bothering you, leave them alone, it is not worth it!

Posted by: Sad | June 10, 2008 12:46 AM | Report abuse

There was a claim that the amalgam is stable. But most dentists will tell you that the fillings have a "lifetime" of 20 or so years. The fillings get soft. The percentage of silver "goes up". I believe this means that the mercury is slowly released into the body, sometimes causing various negative symptoms.

I know at least one person whose allergies dropped off sharply and with the mercury removal process. My wife has seen someone else regain their vision (they walked in blind) during a mercury removal IV (Intravenous infusion). This was quite a scene!

If you are going to have the mercury removed from your teeth, it should be done by a dentist who understands how to do it or you can wind up worse than before. My dentist had a vacuum held close to each tooth as he drilled out the amalgam. After removal from the teeth, removal from the body and brain are also advisable. This is relatively cheap compared to the dental costs.

Posted by: Steve Silverman | June 11, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

I'm one of those folks that have never had amalgam fillings. I'm going to be 52 in a couple of months.

As an allergic kid, I reacted to merthiolate and merchurachrome (pardon my spelling). So my allergist said that I should never have silver amalgam fillings, so I never have. I've had whatever was the 'state of the art' at the time of the fillings over the years.

When I needed a crown in 1982 right after I moved to the DC area, my dentist said that he needed to put in an amalgam filling with reinforcements, make a stump, and then put the crown on top of the stump. I explained my situation to him. He said he'd been a dentist for 18 years and never heard of anyone allergic to mercury. I got tested. A ground-up amalgam filling, mercuric cloride, and elemental mercury was taped to my arm. I was supposed to leave them on for 48 hours but I ripped the stuff off after about 22 hours. It looked like 2nd degree burns. It shocked the heck out of the new dentist. I had my 'stump' make of composite, the dentist stopped using amalgam within the next few years, and the crown is still doing fine.

(This is a great area. To find out how to test for this, I called the National Institute of Dental Health who referred me to the ADA dentist at the NIST Dental Materials Lab. He's the one who told me what to do - with the participation of my dentist and allergist. He wanted to know what the result was because 'We don't often get to talk to people like you.')

Posted by: Rockville | June 12, 2008 3:09 PM | Report abuse

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