Skip to comments.Feds examine safety of mercury fillings
Posted on 09/08/2006 6:34:46 PM PDT by neverdem
WASHINGTON -- Federal health officials are again examining what's known - and what's still to be learned - about the safety of a mercury mixture that's stirred controversy since dentists began using it to fill cavities in the 1800s.
A joint panel of outside experts voted Thursday to reject a draft report that concluded that dental fillings used by millions of people are safe. Yet the panel did not go so far as to declare the mercury-laden amalgam a danger, only that more study is needed because of the risk it poses to some groups.
"For the general population, amalgams are safe. There is evidence of that," said Dr. Karl Kieburtz, a University of Rochester professor and chairman of one of the two panels brought together by the Food and Drug Administration.
An FDA survey of 34 recent research studies did not counter what the agency has said for years: The fillings don't harm patients, except in rare cases where they have allergic reactions.
Research is needed on the effect of dental mercury on children, the fetuses of pregnant women with fillings and others whose bodies may absorb, distribute, process and eliminate mercury differently, Kieburtz and other panelists said.
"There are too many things we don't know, too many things that were excluded," said Michael Aschner, a professor of pediatrics and pharmacology at Vanderbilt University and a panel consultant.
Dr. Ralph Sacco of Columbia University said consumers shouldn't panic and that there was no need to have their amalgam fillings removed.
Still, consumer activists who had pushed for a ban welcomed the panel's rejection of the FDA report, saying it would spark debate and foster public awareness of the issue. They maintain the toxic metal shouldn't be a part of dentistry.
"If we don't want it in our fish, we don't want it in our thermometers, what is it doing in our heads?" asked Sara Moore-Hines, 57, a Pennsylvania counselor.
Meanwhile, the FDA will take the recommendations and comments and evaluate its next steps, Dr. Norris Alderson, the FDA's associate commissioner for science, told the panel at the close of the two-day meeting.
Amalgam fillings by weight are about 50 percent mercury, joined with silver, copper and tin. Tens of millions of Americans receive mercury fillings each year. Amalgam use has begun to taper off, though, with many doctors switching to resin composite fillings that blend better with the natural coloring of teeth.
With amalgam fillings, mercury vapor is released when patients chew and when they brush their teeth.
Significant levels of mercury exposure can cause permanent damage to the brain and kidneys. Fetuses and children are especially sensitive.
The FDA said patients with amalgam fillings are exposed to mercury at levels well below those known to be harmful. Still, Dr. Michael Fleming, a Durham, N.C., dentist and a consumer representative on the panel, asked the agency to consider restricting the use of amalgam in children younger than 6 and in pregnant women.
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I don't know whether almalgam fillings have a significant health risk, but I do know that the new fillings in my teeth are more aesthetically pleasing than the ugly old amalgam filling I had replaced last year.
Our old dentist stopped using amalgam and our new one doesn't either.
Mercury is one of the most toxic metals known, even worse than lead. We are advised by the state where I live to limit our consumption of fresh water fish, because of minute traces of mercury in them. Yet we're not supposed to worry about maybe several grams of mercury in our mouths, some of which is being released every time we eat? They try to claim the mercury is "chemically combined." Heck, I've seen the rotten, corroded appearance of old mercury amalgam fillings. That alloy is not stable! I think it breaks down, just as brass plumbing fixtures are leached of their zinc by acid water. I think the dental profession has acted shamefully in continuing to foist this junk on the public for decades.
The report speaks of "outside panels," as if to imply they could not possibly be biased. Dr. Kieburtz is in fact on the faculty of the Univ. of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry. Is anyone really naive enough to think he is going to turn on his colleagues in the dental profession, who have been planting this crap in people's mouths for years and claiming it was harmless, knowing that an adverse report could lead to $millions in lawsuits?
I don't like to rage against Drs. as a group, but remember that this profession pompously assured us for decades that ulcers were caused by "stress," and viciously attacked the Dr. who first proposed that they were in fact bacterial infections (which was eventually accepted by everyone).
The symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, esp. at low levels, are often subtle and can be confused with those of other illnesses and conditions. How can they be so damn sure that mercury fillings are safe? Things like mercury and lead are dangerous partly because they have no beneficial function in the human body at all, and we and our ancestors never evolved means of dealing with them, because we were not exposed to significant levels until mining and industry began releasing them a few centuries ago. They are not like other metals, e.g. iron, which occurs naturally in food and water, and is necessary in appropriate quantities.
Unfortunately, I bet they wouldn't state that amalgam is unsafe, at least publicly. They would be bashed by the ADA and other dentists if they did.
I looked up the ADA statement on amalgam, and it contains obvious and gross distortions. Remember that amalgam consist dominantly of mercury, then read this from the wonderful ADA:
"Dental amalgam (silver filling) is considered a safe, affordable and durable material that has been used to restore the teeth of more than 100 million Americans. It contains a mixture of metals such as silver, copper and tin, in addition to mercury, which chemically binds these components into a hard, stable and safe substance." Who would ever guess from that statement that amalgam is actually 50% mercury?
Consider these weasel words: ""the small amount of mercury released from amalgam restorations, especially during placement and removal, has NOT BEEN SHOWN to cause any adverse health effects."
"Not been shown" is a long way from "proven safe," especially when we are talking about low-level toxic exposure. Especially when you consider that we can't ethically or legally do real controlled tests on people. Our wonderful professional medical associations and FDA bureaucrats also told us non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs were safe, and Drs. still Rx tons of them as the primary weapon against arthritis, even though they quite often cause intestinal bleeding, sometimes of catastrophic degree. They also have other significant risks.
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Of course, most of this has a financial motive. Insurance companies don't want to reimburse the dentist for the price of tooth colored fillings on posterior teeth. (They are more expensive.) Usually they will only reimburse the price of an amalgam. The patient ends up paying the difference. I think that amalgams may be illegal in Japan, due to dumping of scrap amalgam into the sewage systems. The Japanese are on the forefront of developing more durable tooth-colored resin materials. For now, most American dentists will continue to place amalgams. They're cheap, durable, and don't take as much time to place.
I think it was our new dentist that did say the amalgams weren't safe. I was going to raise questions about the years of lies but thought better of it.
My complaint about all this is that yes we were lied to about this, and, when they started using the white filling, our dental insurance didn't cover the white fillings, calling them 'cosmetic', and saying they didn't last as long as the amalgam. I don't know if dental insurance now covers the white filling or not since we no longer have dental insurance.
This thread prompted me to do some googling, and I found that dental amalgam (not eating fish, or anything else) is the largest source of exposure to mercury in the general population. So why are we warned to limit consumption of fish, but not worry about amalgam? Something is "fishy" about that prioritization.
I think they are trying to cover their butts. They don't dare admit the dangers for fear of lawsuits.
When I was looking for a new dentist I did ask about amalgams. Whether they offered it or not. Most of the dentists I asked, don't even offer it anymore. I asked because at the time I was concerned that they were just trying to make money off people by replacing all their amalgams with the white filling.
We seem to have a good dentist now, but we went through several 'bad' ones to get there.
The ADA has viciously attacked dentists who advocate removing amalgam as quacks and exploiters. Maybe some of them are. However, research does show that mercury levels in patients drop off after amalgam is removed, even if there is a temporary spike caused by drilling it out. Anyway, the dental lobby never seems to mention that fillings must be drilled out anyway whenever they deteriorate or need enlargement!
That's true. They sesttle or shrink or something. I had to have all mine replaced at some point. I'm glad they don't use it anymore.
If you are THAT concerned about mercury exposure from your amalgam fillings and plan on having them removed, make sure your dentist uses a rubber dam when they remove the fillings. Drilling them out creates more of a mercury exposure than leaving an intact amalgam in your mouth...unless you are a cud chewing animal, of course! Did you know that many of these "mercury exposure" studies were done in Canada on cows and sheep?
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