Are mercury dental fillings safe?
Mercury is well known as one of the most dangerous metals on earth. One of only four metals that are in liquid form at room temperature, mercury (also known as quicksilver) is a poison that can cause sickness and even death. So how does it make sense that we get mercury-based fillings in our teeth?
Though people have been petitioning the government for answers for years, a definitive answer has only recently been offered by the FDA.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced this week that the silver colored dental fillings containing mercury are safe for patients. This is good news for most of us, as we are all likely to have a mercury based filling or two in our mouth. This decision by the FDA is a reversal from an earlier caution they relased to doctors and dentists against the use of mercury for medical purposes in specific types of patients, most notably pregnant women and children under the age of 16.
In the statement released Tuesday, the FDA had this to say — “While elemental mercury has been associated with adverse health effects at high exposures, the levels released by dental amalgam fillings are not high enough to cause harm in patients.” The report cites an agency wide review of about 200 scientific studies published in the last couple of years.
Millions of us have mercury fillings used to patch cavities in our teeth. The FDA said it certainly does not recommend any patients have their fillings removed.
The fillings, which are silver in color, are also known as ‘amalgams” in dental parlance. The filling itself is not 100 percent mercury, but is actually a combination of many metals including mercury. Mercury has been linked to brain and kidney damage when it is absorbed into the body at high levels. The FDA has basically reported this week that fillings don’t have enough mercury to do real harm.
In 2006, a group calling itself Moms Against Mercury sued the FDA (along with three other groups) to have mercury amalgams removed from the U.S. market. Early in 2007, an FDA panel reported that most people would not be harmed by the small amount of mercury, but that more information was needed. In fact, that same panel recommended that mercury based fillings not be used on children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people particularly sensitive to mercury.
The dangeorus little metal, whether found in medicine, vaccines, fillings, or food, has generated a ton of controversy in recent years. Many consumer groups say that the fillings can “trigger” a variety of serious health problems including Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. Some parents are refusing to vaccinate their children out of fear of mercury, and even more people are avoiding consuming fish because of rumors of high mercury levels.
But in the FDA’s final regulations on mercury issued this week as part of an earlier legal settlement, the government group stated that the fillings arre now considered “only a moderate risk”. The FDA will clear the air more in the coming weeks by issuing specific details about the risks and benefits of mercury products. These products will also now carry warnings on their labels — warnings doctors will use to inform patients who have mercury allergies or other specific health concerns.
The problem with mercury and other heavy metals is our lack of knowledge. Sure, we know a ton about what exposure to these metals can do, but serious questions still exist about what chronic low-level exposure over the course of a lifetime does to our bodies. According to the FDA’s new release, there is no “causal link” between mercury amalgam fillings and chronic health problems. While some are relieved by this statement, there are still questions from consumer advocacy group, and Moms Against Mercury is still not convinced.
Moms Against Mercury President Amy Carson is on the record saying she is “disappointed in the FDA’s reversal”. Her group filed yet another petition with the FDA as soon as the announcement was made, calling for a ban on mercury fillings yet again. While I’m not sure what Moms Against Mercury knows that the FDA doesn’t, it is impressive that they’re sticking to their guns.
Over the past 20 years, the FDA reports that they’ve only heard about 140 reports of problems with the fillings, or patients who may have suffered problems from the fillings.
The FDA’s decision could have a serious impact on the businesses that manufacture metal fillings. These groups, such as Dentsply International Inc and Kerr, saw their stock prices soar on the news. For now, the dental manufacturing industry is applauding the decision. Shares of Dentsply closed up than 21 cents to rest at $30.80 per share on the Nasdaq.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), 30 percent of fillings given to patients are contain mercury, though a growing number of patients ar echoosing tooth-colored natural options such as resin composites. Even more alternative products exist outside of resin — these include porcelain, glass cement, or even gold. The problem with these fillings? They are much more expensive and far less durable.