The next time your dentist tells you that you have a cavity and need a filling, make sure that what your dentist wants to put in your mouth is mercury-free. Dental amalgams containing mercury still exist and numerous studies have shown that they can be very problematic.
A recent study found that people who had more than eight dental fillings exhibited blood mercury levels that were nearly twice as high as people who had no fillings at all. This suggests that mercury from dental fillings can leach out of your teeth and into your bloodstream. The study authors commented that their findings raise significant safety concerns for people who already have high mercury levels, like those who eat a lot of seafood.
In spite of the overwhelming evidence that mercury is toxic, the American Dental Association continues to maintain that amalgam fillings are completely safe. From the ADA website itself:
“Dental amalgam 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 binds these components into a hard, stable and safe substance.”
Conversely, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that mercury can be hazardous to human health, even in very small amounts. The WHO actually considers mercury to be one of the top ten chemicals of concern to public health, and notes that mercury can have “toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.”
Dental amalgam has been used for over a hundred years, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. The ADA itself admits that it contains mercury, which is known to be toxic to humans. Concerns over the presence of mercury in this filling material are not new. Study co-author Xiaozhong “John” Yu, PhD, Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Science at the University of Georgia says that previous studies on the matter have been inconsistent and rather limited, which is what prompted his team to investigate.
Dr. Yu and his colleagues began their study by analyzing data from 15,000 people during two different study periods, from 2003 to 2004 and from 2011 to 2012. In the first group, blood analysis revealed that people with eight fillings had blood mercury levels that were 2.4 times as high as those who had no fillings at all. In the second group, a similar association was also seen. Mercury levels were not quite so high, but the study authors note that this is probably due to the increasing availability of mercury-free alternatives.
Regardless, while the average amount of mercury in their test subjects blood fell below the safety thresholds set by the EPA and WHO, there is still cause for concern. Dr. Yu told Health, “A small percentage of those people did exceed those threshold levels. If you have other exposures, like if you eat fish everyday, those amounts can add up in the body.”
Dr. Yu also notes that the study didn’t just find an increase in total mercury, but also an increase in methylmercury levels – which is the toxin’s most hazardous form. While the average American has just three dental fillings, approximately 25 percent of the population has 11 or more fillings. The evidence from this study suggests that those people in particular are at risk of suffering the negative effects of mercury.
The ADA has responded to this study by insisting that amalgams are completely safe and has tried to imply that the study may be “overestimating” the impact of mercury in dental amalgam. However, because the study included fillings that were made from both dental amalgam and mercury-free composites, Dr. Yu notes that this could lead to an under-estimation of the negative impact mercury is actually having on people across the country.
While dental health may not be a top priority for most, is it really worth being poisoned over?