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Mercury ‘silver’ fillings: A debate that needs to be had

When I was young I was sent off to the ‘Murder House’. A malevolent dental nurse would proceed to drill holes in my teeth and fill them with shiny ‘silver’ fillings. It was painful, but not as painful as we made out. On Monday I went to the dentist again and managed to get my wallet thoroughly ransacked as I had four very old ‘silver’ fillings removed and replaced with new composite fillings.

It is important to note that gold fillings are called gold fillings because they are, well, made of gold. That’s pretty straight forward and honest. Calling amalgam fillings ‘silver’ fillings is deceptive; they are in fact 50% mercury. The silver content is actually only approx. 22% which begs the question as to why they are not called ‘Mercury fillings’. The first use of mercury fillings is usually stated as around 1833 in the USA, but it was then banned and considered malpractice. It was then ‘un-banned’ by the American Dental Association in 1859 and they have defended its safety profile against all comers ever since.

I would strongly recommend watching this video, which demonstrates how 'silver' fillings leak substantial amounts of mercury constantly and how this increases with any amount of stimulation. It also confirms that the predominant source of human exposure to mercury comes from fillings:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ylnQ-T7oiA&feature=player_embedded

What is Mercury?

Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature. It is a potent neurotoxin; it can build up in your kidneys and brain. It can reach unborn babies, it can affect the endocrine system which is the system of glands and some organs that controls many of life’s processes. It is the most toxic of all the heavy metals. The reported effects of mercury poisoning include all sorts of neurological conditions - depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, autoimmune diseases, cancer…. some researchers state links to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s as well. Studies of dentists have demonstrated higher levels of mercury than found in the general population corresponding to increased rates of neurological conditions.

Mercury is used in fillings to bind the metals together (silver, tin and other metals). The American Dental Association told the world for a 100 years that the mercury stayed fixed in the filling, but we have known for a long time now that mercury does leech out. There are differing estimates for the amount of mercury vapour ‘off gassing’ from the fillings, and there are contributing factors that accelerate the process such as grinding of teeth (which often happens when we sleep), certain drinks as well as physical processes such as brushing of teeth. It is fair to say the amounts leeching out are small, but it is a continuous process and the debate is about what the true safe levels really are and what the real affects will be over an entire lifespan.

Why you were probably not told that your fillings were half mercury

I have never been told by any dentist that the ‘silver’ fillings being deposited in my mouth were actually mercury based. This is one of the things that annoys me the most, the complete arrogance of the medical profession - and I include dentistry here as well. We have the right to make informed decisions about what we take, whether it’s pharmaceutical drugs or dental fillings. In the USA the FDA (Federal Drug Administration) has always sided with the ADA (American Dental Association) and ruled dentists do not have to inform patients that the ‘silver’ fillings they are about to get are actually 50% mercury. The FDA virtually always rules on the side of big business, once a procedure or drug is on the market (often in the case of pharmaceutical drugs - by the use of fraudulent studies) the bar for ‘evidence of harm’ required before removal is significantly raised. In the case of mercury fillings, they were never actually proved to be safe by a series of studies before introduction to the market in the first place. Mercury fillings predate the formation of the FDA - and even the American Civil War.

In 2009 The FDA’s own science advisory group recommended Mercury fillings not be given to children under 6 or pregnant women, and that everyone be informed that mercury is the main component in Amalgam fillings. The FDA ignored this advice, the scientists on the panel said:

‘There is no place for mercury in children’ - Dr Kotagal
‘Definitely not in pregnant women and definitely not in children under 6’ - Dr Thompson
‘Children less than six years of age, I would restrict it considerably’ - Dr Ismail
‘Why put amalgams in children if we know they're going to live with that for the rest of their lives? And we don't know what that's going to do’ - Dr Burbacher

These are pretty telling statements from medical professionals on the FDA’s own advisory panel, and their advice was completely ignored in the interest of profit.

Why do dentists still use Mercury?

One of the arguments given is that they are durable, but recent composites (the new tooth coloured fillings) probably last just as long. The mercury fillings are certainly easier for dentists to apply (and therefore faster) this no doubt equates to greater throughput of patients and therefore profit. Conversely, composite ‘white’ fillings are built up in layers, and each layer needs to set before the next one is applied.

What countries still use mercury fillings?

Mercury fillings are still used in much of the world including New Zealand. They have been banned or allowed for only limited use in Sweden, Austria, Canada, Germany and Denmark.

Discussion

Putting mercury in your mouth amounts to 1830’s weird science. Mercury in fillings may actually date to Chinese use in approximately 600 AD. We know mercury is extremely toxic and we have better options. This debate just illustrates how much influence the profit motive has in pretty much everything to do with health. It is very hard to get things off the market once they are there. Waiting for further studies demonstrating evidence of harm seems absolutely senseless to me.

The list of diseases linked to mercury poisoning above probably looks familiar; there are many things in our lifestyle that have been linked to similar lists. Mercury fillings pose a health risk, they have not been proven safe, there is a valid debate and many questions needing to be answered. In light of this, especially considering the safer alternatives it just doesn't make sense to continue with this ancient technology. There may be slight risks with newer alternatives as well, but it’s about relative risk and there are not many more toxic substances you can put in your mouth than mercury.

On that note, it would be remiss of me not to mention the mercury –fish oil debate. Mercury is a known issue with many commodity fish oils on the market, and, if you will forgive the blowing of our own trumpet, it’s one of the main reasons we used concentrated Omega-3 oil in Lester’s Oil. The concentration process removes mercury, and the amounts in Lester’s Oil (according to our latest lab tests at the Cawthron Institute) show that any mercury (if present) is below detection limits.

If you have mercury fillings and want them removed, its an expensive process so cost will be a consideration. You need to pick a dentist who knows how to remove them safely, they use a rubber sheet to stop the waste being swallowed and a high powered suction pump to clear vapours and any dust from the old fillings. There are many cases of people with chronic conditions reporting improvements in their health, and published studies in this area as well. At the very least, don’t add more mercury fillings, insist on newer technology – and shop around.

Daniel King, MSc (hons)

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