The Future of Dentistry Is Mercury-Free

no mercuryThis week marks the 7th anniversary of the Mercury Awareness Week, a joint campaign by Dr. Mercola and Consumers for Dental Choice, the organization leading the fight against the use of mercury amalgam in dentistry.

Our office has proudly been mercury-free – and mercury-SAFE! – for many years now. Through that time, we’ve seen more and more practices turn away from amalgam, too. Just a few decades ago, only 3% of American dentists were mercury-free. Today, more than half are.

More, we now have the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty that went into effect just last week. Among other measures to stop the use of mercury in consumer products and industry, it requires member countries to begin phasing out dental mercury – a provision fought for by Consumers for Dental Choice. And that’s just the latest milestone in the movement toward mercury-free dentistry.

  • 1800s: Mercury-based amalgam fillings are introduced.

  • 1830s: Dentists express concern about the health risks of filling teeth with mercury.

  • 1845: The first US professional association of dentists, the American Society of Dental Surgeons (ASDS), makes its members sign a pledge not to use amalgam. They considered its use malpractice.

  • 1850s: A group of pro-amalgam dentists abandons the ASDS and forms the organization today known as the American Dental Association, which continues to endorse mercury amalgam.

  • 1920s and 30s: German chemist Alfred Stock’s research on mercury toxicity revives interest in amalgam research.

  • 1970s: There is another surge in amalgam research, while Dr. Hal Huggins begins his very vocal campaign against dental amalgam. In 1985, he publishes the first edition of It’s All in Your Head: Diseases Caused by Silver-Mercury Fillings.

  • 1996: Consumers for Dental Choice is founded with the ultimate goal to “phase out the use of amalgam…worldwide.”

  • 1997: Sweden officially announces a ban on mercury amalgam, but it doesn’t pass EU administration until 2008. Norway bans amalgam in 2008, as well.

  • 2013: The Minamata Convention on Mercury treaty is signed.

  • 2016: A new EPA rule requires all dental offices that routinely handle amalgam to install separators to keep mercury out of the water supply. Although the rule is temporarily rolled back in early 2017, it is soon reinstated and takes effect come summer.

Learn more about the march toward mercury-free dentistry:
 

 
Yet for all the progress, we still have a long way to go. Find out how you can get involved in turning the promise of a mercury-free future into a reality.

Fish: Methylmercury on your Plate

Fish on a plateDuring this Lenten season, those of us who give up meat on Fridays will be eating fish. We know including fish in our diet can offer nutritional benefits–a 6-ounce serving offers a hefty dose of B vitamins, some minerals, and those beneficial omega-3 fats.

But we’ve also heard other things about fish. Every year an advisory is issued for pregnant women and young children that calls for a limit on the amount and types of fish they eat. That’s because all fish, all fish, is contaminated with methylmercury, a neurotoxic element that is particularly dangerous for a fetus or young child.

Because the amounts of methylmercury in fish vary greatly, to eat fish safely, you need to know what fish are more likely to contain more methylmercury.

But as a recent NPR article points out, lists can be confusing. For starters, you have to know what they are filtering for. Very often it’s for sustainability, not methylmercury . Only two out the most commonly referred to guides take mercury content into consideration.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Regional Consumer Guide or App

  • Recommendations help you choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment.

Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector

  • Scientists analyze many aspects of wild fisheries and fish farming operations for more than 200 types of seafood frequently sold in the US market.
  • They collaborate with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program.
  • They rank mercury content in fish with a vague category: unknown, moderate, or elevated.

Environmental Working Group’s Consumer Guide to Seafood

  • Since government and independent scientists have not reached a consensus on a safe level of mercury exposure, it makes recommendations that are aimed to steer people to toward seafood with the best safety profiles.
  • Until the EPA completes its multi-year process to revise its assessment of mercury toxicity, this guide recommends that pregnant women and children consume no more than 75% of the EPA’s safety level. This builds in an extra margin of safety.

Similar to our ubiquitous and unknown levels of exposure to fluoride, mere avoidance of mercury is not only complicated, but political.

Since 1994, when the first published advisory about methylmercury in fish was issued, the FDA and the EPA have come under scrutiny. This year’s advisory is no different. A public health watchdog organization,  the Environmental Working Group, fired back on the “shocking” EPA-FDA advice about eating fish and shellfish. As an eater, you have to wonder, who do you trust and what do you do?

Concern is a good indication that we need more information, for example:

The answers to these questions don’t mean you can’t eat fish. But they do suggest it may be best to check with a guide or a print off list. Things can, and do, change.

Image by Art Siegel

 

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Beware of Dentists Who Believe Mercury Is No Problem

We just want to take a few minutes of your time this week to share an important article we came across on Dr. Bicuspid, a publication for dental professionals. The article, by Alvin Danenberg, DDS, was a pleasant surprise to us for four reasons:

  1. Dr. Bicuspid is a publication for general dentists, not holistic or biological ones, suggesting that the dangers of mercury are being considered more seriously among conventional dentists.

  2. Dr. Danenberg points out that some general dentists indeed are concerned about placing amalgams, which are, of course, approximately 50% mercury.

  3. The author also points out quite clearly that many general dentists, including a US dental school professor, still believe mercury in the mouth poses no problem, even if they wouldn’t currently place amalgam in the mouth.

  4. He pointed, clearly and accurately, to the science.

  5. “The science,” Dr. Danenberg writes,

    clearly shows mercury is toxic to the human body, and free mercury vapor is emitted from existing dental amalgams constantly as studies such as this one from Science of the Total Environment (September 2011, Vol. 409:20, pp. 4257-4268) show. Just as lead in the water or in paint is potentially toxic, mercury in dental amalgams sitting in teeth is toxic.

    He also offers this:

    My profession is well-trained in the repair of broken and diseased teeth. However, some in my profession are not well-informed of the medical research that has been published in peer-reviewed journals. Highly trained and competent technical dentists need to be onboard with current medical research to provide patients with the best preventive and reparative treatment possible.

    We share this because while many dentists are making changes, there are those who never look beyond their initial training or habit. The fact is, as time goes on, things change. New biocompatible materials, new bonding techniques, and new technologies can make dentistry safer – but only if a dentist is willing to invest in continuing education and then use what they learned.

For you the patient, the best tip we can give you if you’re looking for a dentist is to ask questions. Know if the person you are entrusting your oral care to is not only committed to continuing education but committed to implementing it in their office.

 

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Mercury Underwater

The EPA rule requiring mercury amalgam separators in dental offices has been revoked. This turnabout fascinates us. Mercury is, after all, a known neurotoxin with unique properties.

In fact, a 15th century a German sage marveled at its physical  properties,  saying,

This quicksilver is neither too hot, nor too cold, nor too moist, nor too dry, but it is a well-tempered mingling of all four.

Mercury is seductive.  Perhaps you can recall a fascination with the beads of a broken thermometer? How you marveled at the curious dry yet fluid metal as it escaped your grasp?

Mercury proves itself elusive to our intellectual grasp as well.  For even as scientific documentation justifies our fear about mercury’s toxic nature, it plays an intimate role in our daily lives. This shapeshifter has found its safe haven in the most intimate orifice our body, our mouths.

mercuryThe Minamata tragedy  and others like it capture the damage caused by exposure to environmental mercury. But a recounting of historical snapshots only frames part of the picture. There are tragedies we recognize, and tragedies we choose not to recognize. Intellectually, while we know mercury is toxic, many refuse to acknowledge the damage that mercury lodged in teeth poses. For as long as a mercury filling sits in a mouth, mercury vapors leach out, inches from our brain. It’s a silent and chronic toxin. Somehow, this pollution is still allowed in people’s bodies while agencies worldwide work to contain it in the environment.

According to a 1977 article in The Atlantic,

But even if stringent controls on all sources of mercury pollution were strictly enforced, many scientists suspect that mercury already in the water supply will remain a threat for years to come. The reason is that when “inorganic” mercury salts enter a lake or river, they sink to the bottom, where they are slowly converted by microbial action into the “organic” methyl mercury form which killed scores of Japanese twenty years ago and poisoned the Quebec Indians last year. Once converted to the organic methyl mercury form, the poisons move up the food chain from phytoplankton to fish to man. That could mean that microbes will be converting the 200,000 pounds of mercury now resting on the bottom of Lake St. Clair alone into methyl mercury for the next 5000 years. And the mercury now there cannot be easily removed, since dredging operations would disseminate it more widely. Verdict: The mercury crisis may be forgotten, but it is not over.

Documentation of mercury damage can also be elusive. Certainly, mass poisonings have caught our attention, but overall, we appear to be nation with short-term memory loss.

  • 1953 to 1971 — Residents of Minamata, Japan suffered from mercury poisoning after eating fish contaminated by mercury waste products from a local factory. As of 2001, the poisoning has proved fatal to 1784 of its 2265 victims. In addition, children born to women who ate the contaminated fish were born with cerebral palsy and suffered from chorea, ataxia, tremors, seizures, and mental retardation.

  • 1964 to 1965 – What happened in Niigata, Japan is referred to as the “second Minamata Disease.” With 702 “officially certified” victims to date, there are still 2,400 applicants  going through the application process to certify them as victims of methylmercury released into wastewater from an industrial plant.

  • 1969 — A New Mexico family of 10 suffered permanent neurological damage when a farmer and his family ate pork inadvertently fed with seed grain that had been treated with methylmercury fungicide.

  • 1971 to 1972More than 6500 cases of mercury poisoning were reported, with at least 459 deaths, from consuming grain treated with methylmercury fungicide in Iraq. It’s  important to note the death toll appears to have risen with the passing of time. Shortly after this incident, methylmercury used as a fungicide seed treatment was banned worldwide.

  • 1989 – Despite treatment for exposure to dental mercury vapor,  four adult occupants in a home died after one of them tried to separate silver from dental amalgam by heating and melting it in a casting furnace in the basement. The mercury vapor went up the air ducts and circulated in the home where it was inhaled.

  • 1996 – Dartmouth College chemistry professor Karen Wetterhahn spilled a small amount of dimethylmercury on her latex glove. Despite treatment, she died shortly after from mercury intoxication.

  • 2008 Actor Jeremy Piven was diagnosed with mercury poisoning. Piven at sushi twice a day for 20 years and may have consumed mercury in herbal remedies.

  • 2008 – Tony Winnett died after inhaling mercury vapors while using liquid mercury to separate gold from the alloy, retrieving the gold from computer parts.

In all its forms, mercury is toxic. Mercury is never inert. In the US mercury used in dental amalgam is dumped into wastewater treatment centers at the rate of 4.4 tons per year. This mercury sewage bioaccumulates in the fish we eat. In the US, mercury contaminated fish ushers a constant warning to pregnant women and young children. The set of scientific facts that generated a warning in the US were evaluated in the EU, where the risks were recognized and a ban was issued.

In the US, we’re still debating on how to keep mercury sludge out of wastewater facilities. Even if you never thought of yourself as an activist, you could help keep 4.4 tons of mercury out of our waterways. Read this.  Wherever  you go for dental services, ask them if they use a mercury amalgam separator. The question is a simple act that will ensure dentists everywhere hear what’s important to you. Your question gives them an opportunity to not only do the right thing, but for the right thing to matter.

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Did Dental Work Cause Your Disease?

Dr. Hal Huggins was one of the first and most vocal proponents for mercury-free, mercury-safe dentistry in the United States and continues to be a leading figure in identifying toxic dental materials, balancing body chemistry and developing a multi-disciplined approach to reversing autoimmune diseases.

In the series of videos below, Dr. Huggins discusses the impact various dental situations can have on whole body health. It’s a must-see for anyone who has ever wondered whether their complex, chronic health problems may have been aggravated by mercury amalgam fillings or other dental sources of toxins.

 

“Silver” Amalgam Fillings Raise Mercury Levels

So called “silver” amalgam fillings are a primary source of mercury exposure – a fact borne out by research just published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology.

Canadian researchers analyzed the relationship between the number of dental amalgam surfaces and urinary mercury levels using data from a large philanthropic chronic disease prevention program in Calgary, Alberta.

The study group included 2,137 people who agreed to have a urinary analysis to determine their mercury levels from September 2010 through February 2013.

Those with amalgam fillings had higher levels of mercury, both under normal conditions and when given DMPS and DMSA (substances that move mercury out of bodily tissues). According to the authors,

Our estimates indicate that an individual with seven or more dental amalgam surfaces has 30% to 50% higher urinary mercury levels than an individual without amalgams. This is consistent with past literature that has identified seven amalgam surfaces as an unsafe level of exposure to mercury vapor. Our analysis suggests that continued use of silver amalgam dental fillings for restorative dentistry is a non-negligible, unnecessary source of mercury exposure considering the availability of composite resin alternatives. [emphasis added]

Could the point be made any more clearly?

You can download a free provisional version of the complete paper here.

You might wonder: How did we get to this situation in the first place, thinking nothing of putting a known neurotoxin in people’s teeth? A quick history of mercury fillings:

 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbeCgP8u2yE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDPqssEDmqQ

About Those So-Called “Silver” Fillings… (Part 2)

Read Part 1 of this article

hgDentistry is one of the main ways mercury makes its way back into the environment, where it can ultimately affect those who have never had an amalgam filling in their mouth.

Yes, whether you have amalgams or not, mercury “silver” fillings are everyone’s problem.

This is why some countries – most notably Norway, Sweden and Denmark – have phased out dental amalgam already. “Mercury is among the most dangerous environmental toxins,” says Erik Solheim, Norway’s Minister of the Environment. “Satisfactory alternatives to mercury in products are available, and it is therefore fitting to introduce a ban.” The World Health Organization (WHO) similarly cites amalgam as a non-essential use of mercury and recommends “a phase down” and shift to alternatives.

And earlier this year, a global mercury treaty was finally passed, aiming to have “a worldwide ban on the manufacture, export and import of…products that contain mercury” in place by 2020. Although the standards for dentistry aren’t as rigorous as we’d like, that amalgam is addressed at all is a key accomplishment.

Why are we still using amalgam fillings in the United States – especially when there are such excellent alternatives available? The latest composite resins – the material used to make white/tooth-colored fillings – are in some cases even stronger and more durable than amalgam. They also have the advantage of letting you save more natural tooth structure, keeping the tooth strong. Add proper testing to ensure biocompatibility – something we insist on in our office – and you’ve got a quality, nontoxic restoration that can last for many years. (We know people who have had composite fillings last for 20 years or even longer with proper care. This is comparable to amalgam.)

They’re certainly more aesthetic, as well.

If you are thinking about having your fillings removed, first find out if the amalgam fillings you have are making you ill. Some people’s bodies are able to handle the mercury exposure and can excrete it efficiently, as noted on the Dr. Oz segment and in the ITV documentary. If they are, you then want to be sure that the dentist you entrust to the job is mercury-safe. Special precautions must be taken to minimize exposure to both you and the dental team, as well as the environment. The IAOMT’s guidelines for removal are standard for mercury-safe dentists.

Finally, be aware that proper removal usually involves pre- and post-removal detox, especially if you have chronic health problems in which mercury has played a part. Your body must be prepared to heal and detoxify – and then supported in its detox processes afterward. Amalgam removal is not a quick fix and definitely not something that should be rushed into.

Learn all you can about the pros and cons. Work closely with a biological dentist and allied physicians and healers to determine if this is a good path to follow with respect to your specific health situation. Ask questions. Get the facts. Decide what makes most sense for you.

About Those So-Called “Silver” Fillings… (Part 1)

mercury-fillingsCalling them “silver” is such a misnomer.

Oh, they do contain some silver. Mostly, though, they contain mercury.

Yep, you read that right: mercury. And not just a little bit. About 50% of dental amalgam – the official name of the metal alloy used for filling carious teeth (cavities) – is made of this known neurotoxin. (The rest of the alloy typically includes silver, tin, zinc and copper.)

Mercury is so dangerous that if you were to be exposed to it – say, through dropping a new light bulb or old thermometer – you’d be told to leave the area immediately and call authorities for safe clean-up. When a dentist removes it from a tooth, it must be handled as toxic waste.

The Royal Society of Chemistry describes mercury as “a virulent poison, readily absorbed through the respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal tract or through the skin. It is a cumulative poison and dangerous levels are readily attained in air.”

Yet the US and other parts of the world, all too many dentists continue to use mercury to restore teeth.

Several years ago, the FDA looked like they might be changing their tune with respect to this dental material. They added a new statement to their website:

Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses.

But then the new language – which has been documented by mainstream news sources, holistic organizations, blogs, documentaries and the like – rather suddenly disappeared.

What you’ll find there today is a discussion of amalgam and potential risks, but no definitive or direct statement of mercury’s demonstrated effects on the human nervous system and brain. (To learn more about the politics behind the agency’s apparent waffling, see this and this.)

Truth be told, we’ve known about the health risks of mercury amalgam since at least the early 19th century. In fact, the first professional dental association in the US held that amalgam should not be used. Yet some dentists wanted to use it anyway. After all, it was cheap, easy to work with and provided durable, functional restorations. A couple dozen of these dentists broke away from the society because of that and formed the American Dental Association (ADA).

These days, the ADA still holds that mercury is perfectly safe for filling teeth. Unsurprisingly, they were none too pleased with Dr. Oz’s coverage of the amalgam issue on his TV show earlier this year. Ultimately, they pulled their support from a consumer health site Dr. Oz co-founded and remains involved with.

One major point of contention involved the release of mercury vapor from amalgam fillings – something that happens consistently during daily activities, including eating, drinking, brushing, clenching and grinding (bruxing), eating acidic foods and drinking acidic or hot drinks (soda, coffee, etc.).

The ADA, FDA and others who continue to swear by amalgam’s safety insist that the amount released is so small as to pose no hazard at all (despite the fact that no “safe” level of exposure to this neurotoxin has ever been recognized). The amount, in fact, can vary greatly, as shown powerfully in the ITV documentary linked to above, where emissions from individuals’ amalgam fillings were taken. Though not scientific in the strict sense, the results of those readings were “in line with controlled studies” and ranged from 0 to more than 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

It’s important to remember that there’s no escape from such exposure. The fillings are there, 24/7. Mercury vapor is consistently released and inhaled, introducing it to the general circulation where it tends toward fatty tissues in particular – excellent storage sites for all kinds of toxins – but especially the brain, kidneys and liver.

According to the European Commission, the “largest source of mercury exposure for most people in developed countries is inhalation of mercury vapor from dental amalgam.”

To be continued…

Image via The Urban Clinic