Every so often, the Wealthy Dentist surveys dentists on their use of mercury amalgam. In their latest poll, 67% of dentists said they place amalgam fillings at least some of the time: 40% regularly, 27% “in only [sic] special circumstances.” This is quite a change from past results, in which 53% of dentists said they don’t place amalgam – though the difference may be due to there being no “sometimes” option in past polls, and that dentists decide if they want to participate or not. These are hardly scientific polls.
But research published earlier this year in JADA suggests that higher rates of use are more accurate. Amalgam is still more common than composite (tooth-colored filling material) and especially favored by younger dentists and those who work in large group practices:
Dentists who graduated in the past 5 years placed amalgam on 61% of the lesions they treated. One explanation may be that younger dentists are more likely to be in large group practices where they work on salary, rather than fee-for-service, said [study author] Dr. Sonia K. Makhija. The type of material might be dictated by managers of the group practice. In large group practices (4 dentists or more), 79% of the restorations were amalgam (P < .001). "It's quicker, it's easier and it's cheaper to use amalgam," Dr. Makhija said. [emphasis added]
And that, as they say, is the gist and sum of it.
However many are being placed, the simple fact of the matter is that one mercury filling is too many. We know now that there is no longer a place for mercury amalgam in dentistry. While the FDA has flip-flopped and currently holds that mercury fillings are safe, just this year, one of its own scientific panels said otherwise:
According to the panel, FDA’s amalgam risk assessments were not adequate to protect hypersensitive adults, children and unborn babies. Repeatedly, panel members expressed their concern about amalgam use in children. Pediatric neurologist Dr. Suresh Kotagal of the Mayo Clinic summed it up for the entire panel: “There is really no place for mercury in children.” Other panelists went on to explain that dental mercury is like lead. The panel urged FDA to quickly contraindicate amalgam for these vulnerable populations and insisted that FDA provide consumers with labeling containing clear warnings.
Dental amalgam is more than 50% mercury, a known neurotoxin. There is no safe level of exposure. It is considered “toxic waste” outside the mouth but somehow magically inert and harmless when packed into living human teeth.
Mercury fillings have been linked to neurological, autoimmune and cardiovascular disorders, as well as enigmatic chronic illnesses such as CFS, fibromyalgia and MCS. It is continually released from the fillings into the general circulation just under the normal pressures of chewing and swallowing. Indeed, up to 95% of the mercury may be “lost” over time. But it doesn’t just disappear. That which isn’t excreted turns up in other tissues, including the brain. And while videos such as “Smoking Teeth = Poison Gas” have brought a lot of attention to the reality of “outgassing,” this isn’t the only way mercury may enter the general circulation. Some research has shown that mercury may travel through the teeth themselves.
There are many nontoxic alternatives that are strong and durable, less prone to fail and certainly more aesthetic. Placing composite is also a less invasive procedure than placing amalgam, letting you retain more natural tooth structure. All things considered, there just is no good reason for a dentist to place mercury fillings.
So why do so many dentists keep using it? Here’s a sample of responses to that Wealthy Dentist poll:
- “I don’t understand what the big hoopla is about banning it entirely. Health concerns? Unproven. Mercury in environment? Don’t blame the dentists.” [Fact: Dentistry is the largest source of wastewater mercury pollution.]
- “The greatest posterior restoration ever!”
- “They are the most technically forgiving, economical workable restorative still.”
- “There is nothing wrong with amalgam restorations — they are efficient and cost effective for the patient!”
- “They last much longer, less sensitivity and there is no credible evidence they have killed anyone. [A straw man. The issue is harm, for which there is certainly evidence. (PDF)] Remember composites contain Bis-Phenol and I still place many more composites, GI’s, then amalgams. [Fact: Not all composites contain BPA. All amalgams, however, do contain mercury.] Because of their proven longevity, it is unethical to not offer amalgam to your dental patients.” [Fact: This “longevity” claim is a canard. Many new generation restorative materials are reported to be as strong and durable as metal.]
- “I still love amalgams. I am also tired of all the amalgam-bashing. I believe most of it is profit-driven. I had great gold and amalgams placed years ago in my mouth. No one ever notices.”[Fact: Placing different metals next to each other in the mouth can create galvanic currents, which can also contribute to illness.]
This coming week, September 4 – 9, Consumers for Dental Choice will be teaming up with Dr. Mercola to promote Mercury-Free Dentistry Week. Each day, Dr. Mercola will run an article in honor of mercury-free dentistry – and the people who have worked so hard to stop this toxin from contaminating our bodies, our planet and our workplaces.
I’ll be posting mercury-related content on my office’s Facebook page all week, as well. So be sure to connect with me there so you can stay up to date – not only on the mercury issue but all aspects of holistic, biological dental health and wellness.
Image by foshydog, via Flickr