In my practice I still see many patients with mercury fillings, especially in older generations. I have been asked frequently if they should have old mercury-filled silver fillings removed and replaced with a better alternative, fearing they may cause new health issues. It’s a good question, since newer reports about the toxicity of mercury and its potential harm to the body have emerged in the news lately.

Let’s take a look at the facts to answer the following questions: If you have mercury fillings, should they be removed and replaced? What population and age group should never have cavities filled with the element? And, what are the effects if you already have old mercury-filled silver fillings?

“Mercury fillings” are really dental amalgam, a mixture of mercury, silver, tin and other metals. Dental amalgam has been the go-to dental filling material for more than 150 years. Why?  It is because it’s affordable and durable. The mercury helps make the filling material pliable. When it is mixed with an alloy powder, it creates a compound that is soft enough to mix and press into the tooth. But it also hardens quickly and can withstand the forces of biting and chewing.

Half of dental amalgam contains mercury, a heavy metal that is considered toxic at high levels.  The high level of toxicity in the human body can cause brain, heart, kidney, lung and immune system long-term damage. With ‘tooth decay as one of the most prevalent chronic diseases’, according to a scientist in the department of environmental health sciences and the lead author on new research that suggests that methyl mercury (the most toxic form of mercury) may cause damage even at low levels, mercury warrants a new look at its use in our bodies. A new study from the University of Georgia recently uncovered the dangers of mercury for filling cavities. This is new research never conducted before. (Click here for more info).   It suggests that since toxicologists already know that mercury is poison that the recommendation is to focus on the dose encouraging those with more than eight fillings and those exposed to mercury due to other sources (such as seafood or work environments) to begin asking questions of their dental professionals. Additionally, European NGOs urged dentists to immediately implement the upcoming ban on mercury dental fillings for children under 15 and pregnant/breastfeeding women or other vulnerable people. (Click here to see ban).  The goal is to end dental mercury and use safer alternatives.

According to its website, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers dental amalgam fillings safe for adults, but says, "pregnant women and parents with children under six who are concerned about the absence of clinical data as to long-term health outcomes should talk to their dentist."

I have to ask myself: Due to the recent findings, should we be asking more questions and encouraging more studies?

The public safety concerns surrounding mercury fillings have been under scrutiny in the dental field for many years. My take is this: Mercury is poisonous, but it depends on the dose. A few mercury fillings in your mouth are safe. It’s once you have up to 8 or more and depending on other risk factors in your life that you might want to consider alternatives.   There is now a dental amalgam that contains indium as well as mercury. The indium helps retain the mercury so that less is released into the environment. There are also high-copper amalgams. They contain less mercury and more copper.  Dentists use other materials to restore teeth. These include composite resin, porcelain and gold. Amalgam is stronger than composite resin and requires less time in the dentist's chair. Composite resin is a tooth-colored material. Because it wears faster than amalgam, composite resin can't be used in every situation.

I do want to stress, currently, scientific studies have not verified that dental amalgam causes illness in the general population.  It has been known for some time, however, that amalgam fillings release minute amounts of mercury vapor, especially with chewing. This mercury can be absorbed, reach body organs, and even cross the placenta. I do, however, strongly recommend pregnant women or women planning to have children in their near future, consider alternatives to mercury fillings.

There are findings from an article published by CDC.news about the dangers of mercury fillings and children. (Click here for more info). A group of researchers conducted a study of mercury fillings and the link to Autism.  One hundred children participated in new research -- 40 of them had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), 40 of the children were healthy individuals, and the remaining 20 were the healthy siblings of children with autism. The team discovered there was a strong relationship between mercury toxicity and the presence of ASD. They also found there was a direct link between the level of mercury toxicity and autism severity. Children with the highest levels of mercury also displayed the most severe symptoms of ASD. Researchers found that having more dental fillings made of mercury-containing dental amalgams are likely exposing their children to mercury toxicity during pregnancy and after birth -- just by having the filling in their mouth. The study also concluded that children born to mothers with six or more mercury-containing dental fillings increased autism by 3.2 times.

I will reiterate my previous sentiment: I highly recommend pregnant women or women planning to have children in their near future, consider alternatives to mercury fillings.

So what’s the takeaway from these findings? If you have more than 8 mercury fillings, and especially if you are experiencing any chronic illness symptoms, you are pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, are breastfeeding, or have a child under the age of 15 you may want to start the dialogue about alternatives with your dental professional. Your dentist can discuss with you the new alternatives being used to replace amalgams. Dental material companies offer a different selection of materials and treatments including; polymeric composites to plug cavities, treatments to stop tooth decay in its tracks, and peptides to alter the microbiome in a person’s mouth and prevent decay from happening in the first place.

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