How Dangerous Are Mercury Fillings?
November 24, 2020
Silver amalgam contains approximately 50% mercury and has been commonly used for dental fillings since the 19th century. Shortly after its inception, harmful side effects following the use of silver amalgam were widely reported, and its continued use in dentistry has faced *controversy ever since.
Why All the Fuss?
Let’s start with the facts: Mercury is unimaginably toxic. A single drop of mercury onto your hand can be irreversibly fatal. At room temperatures, mercury becomes a vapour that is colourless, tasteless, and odourless. Alchemists, including a young Sir Isaac Newton, once believed mercury was the source of gold. Fast-forwarding to a more modern era, mercury became a common ingredient in many paints, diuretics, pesticides, batteries, fluorescent lightbulbs, skin creams, antifungal agents, vaccines for children, thermometers and of course, dental fillings.
Mercury is a highly toxic element that’s proven to be poisonous to the human body and is more harmful than lead and arsenic.
Mercury can also be the by-product of various industrial processes. Many coal-fired power plants pump about 50 tons of mercury into the air each year, resulting in toxic rain falling from the sky into our oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams, where it becomes concentrated in the flesh of all living and breathing inhabitants. Studies show that the sea’s mercury levels should be considered when consuming larger ocean fish, especially women considering pregnancy.
History Speaks for Itself
In 1956, Japan’s Minamata Bay was contaminated through careless industrial pollution, and the local population unknowingly ingested mercury through fish/shellfish. In the most extreme cases, numbness, sensory loss and muscle weakness were reported, and some led to insanity, coma, and even death. Many fetuses exposed to these severe mercury levels were either stillborn or miscarried. Countless others were born with physical deformities and neurological disabilities, including deafness and blindness. More than six decades after the Minamata Bay incident, locals are still dealing with the horrors of mercury poisoning.
The consequences of chronic mercury exposure are rarely immediate. Symptoms often take years to surface, making the correlation between disease and dental mercury extremely difficult. The US Food and Drug Administration recently updated their dental amalgam guidelines, recommending certain high-risk groups avoid getting dental amalgam. These groups that may be at a greater risk for potential harmful health effects include:
- Pregnant women and their developing fetuses;
- Women who are planning to become pregnant;
- Nursing women and their newborns and infants;
- Children, especially those younger than six years of age;
- People with pre-existing neurological disease such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease
- People with impaired kidney function; and
- People with known heightened sensitivity (allergy) to mercury or other components of dental amalgam
Replacing Amalgam Fillings…is it Safe?
The primary risk to a patient’s health is the dentist’s competency and training, and if improperly performed, the careless removal of mercury fillings can cause harm. During the removal of amalgam fillings, there is the risk that a patient can be exposed to mercury, and several precautionary steps must be taken to reduce additional mercury absorption. Although the Alberta Dental Association and College do not recommend early removal and replacement of amalgam fillings, a filling more than ten years old typically needs to be replaced because of leakage around the edges, excessive corrosion, and underlying decay.
As a consumer, you have the right to know about the potential dangers amalgam fillings pose to your general health, along with the alternative options available. At Health First Dental, Dr. Freiberg offers a safe and effective method to remove your silver amalgam fillings that follow the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology standards.
We believe in Mercury Free dentistry and always putting your health first.
*Disclaimer: Most dentists are not of the view that mercury amalgam, fluoride, or root canals are potentially harmful to your health.