Dental Mercury Amalgam: The Saga Continues

In Woodstock, Georgia, a whole neighborhood was put on alert recently, after as much as a pint of mercury was discovered in the basement of a home there.

A pint of mercury?!

“They couldn’t tell me where it came from. They said they’ve had it for a long time, a number of years,” EPA coordinator Stephen Ball said. “Some teens were at the house and discovered the mercury and accidentally spilled it.”

One of the teens attends Ace Academy in Canton, and someone at school noticed mercury in the teen’s hair.

The school tested negative for mercury contamination. Not so the home. Others in the area were being tested as this story hit the air late last month.

hgThe EPA took this seriously because mercury is serious business. There is no known “safe” level of exposure. A potent neurotoxin, mercury has been linked to a broad range of environmental and human health concerns, including autoimmune disorders, neurological disorders, cardiovascular problems and “enigmatic” conditions such as CFS, MCS and fibromyalgia.

Of course, a jar full of mercury isn’t the most usual source of exposure for most people. That would be so-called “silver” amalgams, which are actually about 50% mercury. For those with multiple amalgam fillings, up to 90% of their total mercury exposure may come from what’s packed in their teeth.

Despite the known risks and abundant research showing the hazard mercury amalgam presents to human health, agencies like the FDA and organizations like the ADA continue to insist that amalgam is “safe.” In fact, the FDA reinforced the point earlier this year:

After another of its customary multi-year stalls on politically fraught issues, FDA in January substantially denied three five-year-old petitions seeking to rid American dentistry of mercury-based dental amalgams that have been scientifically linked to kidney damage and neurological disabilities and diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s.
The link is especially strong in children, neonates, and placental transfer to fetuses, and comes primarily from chewing with amalgam-filled teeth and, to a lesser degree, from eating fish.

Throughout patients’ lifetimes, these fillings release mercury vapor that is absorbed through the lungs and oral mucosa, according to studies submitted with the petitions—documentation FDA essentially dismisses as “not new.”

As it did in 2009 when it classified amalgam as Class II (safe and effective), FDA in January again defied the statutory approval standard for medical devices and drugs—production by manufacturers of substantial clinical evidence of safety and effectiveness.

Instead, the agency again stood by its unseen political directors, who in turn harken to the third-biggest-spending health professionals’ lobby, the strongly pro-amalgam American Dental Association. The association, in turn, answers to the estimated 30% of practicing dentists who still use amalgam because it is cheaper and easier than safer substitutes and who reasonably fear liability lawsuits from amalgam’s ill effects.

Sound familiar?

There is one positive in this, though, as the agency did agree to some changes to their amalgam webpage that make it clearer that amalgam contains mercury and acknowledge at least some health concerns.

It’s something, but as one of the attorneys involved noted, it’s not enough.

The agency, he said, “continues to allow the American people to be poisoned by their mercury fillings despite the scientifically demonstrated risks. Despite the shift of many countries away from mercury fillings, it appears that the FDA believes that the human mouth is a safe place to store mercury.”