Toxic Teeth: The Mercury Amalgam Debate

© 2015 by Kate Parker, RDH, BS-DH, RF

toxic teeth amalgamWe are still using the same technology that was in use when the common modes of transportation were horses and sailing ships

Dental amalgams have been in common use for over 160 years, affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Indeed, we are still using the same technology that was in use during the American Civil War. People were still reading by candle light, and the common modes of transportation were horses and sailing ships: that's how long ago we're talking about here. Many barbers were still doing dentistry procedures, as dentistry was not yet its own field, and the Victorian era was in full swing.

While some would argue that 160 years of use must signify a significant benefit of mercury amalgams over other filling materials, this isn't necessarily the case. In fact, mercury amalgam fillings have been strenuously rejected by many medical and dental health professionals since their inception.

You would think that, considering the vast amounts of research over the past 160 years, our dental technology would have progressed since the horse and buggy days. The thing is, the technology has progressed, but the dental profession has not always kept pace with the latest research. Admitting to the world that the dental profession has been systematically harming people for 160 years is bad business. Not as bad business, however, as continuing to claim that implanting mercury into people's bodies is "safe" when we know it isn't.

What Is Mercury Amalgam?

toxic teeth amalgamIt's estimated that over 1 billion mercury amalgam fillings are placed annually

Mercury amalgam is the most common dental filling material ever used, and is still widely in use today. It's estimated that over 1 billion amalgam fillings are placed annually. Multiply that over 160+ years and you can get an idea of the scope of this practice.

  • ~50% elemental (liquid) mercury
  • ~28% silver
  • ~14% tin
  • ~8% copper

The dental professional mixes the ingredients on site after the filling has been drilled and prepped. The liquid mercury and other metals come in small protective plastic capsules.

The capsule is placed, unopened, into a small machine called an amalgamator. The amalgamator "shakes" the capsule for a few seconds to amalgamate, or combine, the mercury and other metals.

The dental professional then packs and shapes the filling into the tooth to imitate the contours of the original tooth. It can take up to 2 weeks for the amalgam to fully harden and set, but an initial set is achieved in roughly 24 hours.

My Experience Placing Amalgams

toxic teeth amalgamOn one hand we were taught that mercury amalgam is toxic waste. On the other hand we were taught that it magically becomes "safe" when placed into the body

I earned certification in restorative expanded functions (RF), allowing me to place and contour amalgam (and other) fillings. I spent hundreds of hours earning this certification, and therefore have had a lot of experience working with amalgams. Right away, I realized there was something amiss when dealing with mercury amalgams. I'll relate my experiences here.

  1. We were strenuously warned about the dangers of working with amalgam and the instructors watched us like hawks to ensure we were handling it "safely"
  2. It was explained to us that dental professionals have the highest levels of systemic mercury of anyone else in the population
  3. We were instructed not to get it on our clothing, our skin, and to at all times wear a mask, gloves, and full protective gown when handling it
  4. We used high-speed suction throughout the procedure to ensure all the amalgam dust was extracted from the air (and mouth) as we worked. The dust was extracted into a water reservoir to ensure it was contained and could not blow out of the container
  5. At the end of the day we had to dump amalgam scraps, and the amalgam dust water, into enormous plastic barrels. The barrels were considered so hazardous that we had to open and unscrew the lids using a wrench the size of my entire arm. The lid was promptly secured and double-checked by an instructor
  6. Mercury amalgam was treated as hazardous waste, and it was clear that it was so dangerous that we should not be placing it in people's mouths or handling it ourselves

While I had never been a fan of mercury amalgam fillings before, working with and placing them brought my awareness to a whole new level. On one hand, we were taught that mercury amalgam was toxic waste to be feared and respected. On the other hand we were taught that it magically becomes "safe" when it's placed into the human body. What!?

Toxic Teeth: The Dangers Of Mercury Amalgams

toxic teeth amalgamsA mercury amalgam outgassing after brief mechanical stimulation (watch the video below)

While many conventional dentists would have you believe that mercury amalgam fillings are "safe," there has always been and always will be a plethora of evidence to the contrary. When amalgam fillings first hit the mainstream, they were strenuously rejected by scientists in the medical and dental communities. However, there was never a consensus, and the "debate" has only gained steam over the past 160 years. 

The political clout of dental corporations and associations, and their hold over the dental profession and dental schools, has been a thorn in the side of forward-thinking dental professionals since the field began. Unfortunately, it seems clear that no matter how much evidence is presented to the dental community, the "powers that be" continue down the same path they've always taken. The good news, however, it that about 50% of dentists in the US now refuse to work with amalgam fillings, while some countries have passed legislation banning their use (Norway, Sweden, Denmark.) Despite the corporate dental associations pushing mercury amalgams as safe, the world at large is finally becoming aware of their dangers and acting accordingly. 

  • Peer-reviewed, evidence-based research has found time and again that mercury amalgams "outgas" mercury vapors into the body. This outgassing of mercury vapor occurs due to temperature changes (foods, drinks), mechanical agitation (chewing, biting, brushing the teeth), as well as chemical and electrical interactions (fluoride ions, other metals in the mouth)
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that there is no "safe" level of mercury in the body. In other words, even one atom of mercury is not safe 
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and World Health Organization (WHO) state "A specific no-observed-effect level (NOEL) cannot be established" 
  • The average mercury amalgam filling outgasses 3.0-17.0 µg/day of mercury vapor, depending on temperature changes, mechanical agitation, and chemical / electrical interactions in the mouth on any given day
  • Outgassing of mercury vapors into the mouth is a serious problem, since the mouth is so close to the brain. The vapor passes easily through the palate, waltzes through the blood-brain barrier (BBB), and settles in the brain. The rest of the mercury vapor is inhaled into the lungs where it enters the bloodstream and travels throughout the body. In pregnant women, the mercury easily passes through the placenta into the developing fetus. The long-term effects of daily mercury outgassing can have serious consequences on the mental and systemic health of those affected.

Symptoms Of Mercury Amalgam Poisoning

Alternatives To Mercury Amalgams

Most commonly dentists and restorative functions-certified dental hygienists are using composite resin in place of mercury amalgam fillings. Composites come in varying tooth-colored shades, ensuring that they match the color of the teeth perfectly.

Composites don't release mercury into the body (or the environment), and are fairly easy to place and shape. They fully cure and harden after being placed, whereas mercury amalgams take up to 2 weeks to fully cure.

Biological dentists can use blood compatible reactivity testing to determine which type of composite is biocompatible with your body (will react best in your body.) Everybody is different, and this allows for a much more fine-tuned approach to filling placement and restorative dentistry.

While there are some drawbacks to composite fillings (they wear down faster and aren't as strong as metal fillings), there's no question that this is preferred over mercury amalgams.   

How To Remove Mercury Amalgams Safely

Contrary to popular belief, removing amalgam fillings is not as simple as just drilling them out and replacing them.

In fact, the act of drilling mercury amalgam floods the system with huge amounts of mercury all at once. Many people do not recover from this type of heavy metal toxicity for years unless they go through serious detoxification (most people don't even think about it.)

Do Not get your amalgams removed without first following these easy steps:

  • Find a dentist who has been specifically trained in proper amalgam removal techniques
  • Ensure the dental staff will be wearing respirators, will use special high-volume suction, a dental dam, and will give you a clean air supply via a positive pressure respiration device. They should also cover your skin head to toe before amalgam removal
  • Consult a biological dentist concerning mercury/heavy metal detoxification before, during, and after amalgam removal. Mercury detox is critical to permanently removing it from your system. No matter how careful the dentist is, you are going to get a large dose of mercury in your system upon amalgam removal
  • Find a biological dentist in your area

Recent Mercury Amalgam Research

toxic teeth amalgamsShare this article with family and friends to help them prevent toxic teeth

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2. Dérand T. Mercury vapor from dental amalgams, an in vitro study. Swed Dent J. 1989;13(5):169-75.

3. Duplinsky TG, Cicchetti DV. The health status of dentists exposed to mercury from silver amalgam tooth restorations. Int J Stat Med Res. 2012;1:1-15.

4. Echeverria D, Woods JS, Heyer NJ, Rholman D, Farin FM, et al. The association between a genetic polymorphism of coproporphyrinogen oxidase, dental mercury exposure and neurobehavioral response in humans. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2006 Jan-Feb;28(1):39-48.

5. Geier DA, Carmody T, Kern JK, King PG, Geier MR. A significant dose-dependent relationship between mercury exposure from dental amalgams and kidney integrity biomarkers: a further assessment of the Casa Pia children's dental amalgam trial. Hum Exp Toxicol. 2012;32(4):434-40.

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10. Kall J, Robertson K, Sukel P, Just A. International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) position statement against dental mercury amalgam fillings for medical and dental practitioners, dental students, and patients (744 references). IAOMT. 2013 Apr;1-52.

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14. Melchart D, Vogt S, Köhler W, Streng A, Weidenhammer W, et al. Treatment of health complaints attributed to amalgam. J Dent Res. 2008 Apr;87(4):349-53.

15. Mortada WL, Sobh MA, El-Defrawy MM, Farahat SE. Mercury in dental restoration: is there a risk of nephrotoxicity? J Nephrol. 2002;15(2):171-6.

16. Mutter J. Is dental amalgam safe for humans? The opinion of the scientific committee of the European Commission. J Occup Med Toxicol. 2011 Jan;6:2-12.

17. Nylander M, Friberg L, Lind B. Mercury concentrations in the human brain and kidneys in relation to exposure from dental amalgam fillings. Swed Dent J. 1987;11(5):179-87.

18. Palkovicova L, Ursinyova M, Masanova V, Yu Z, Hertz-Picciotto I. Maternal amalgam dental fillings as the source of mercury exposure in developing fetus and newborn. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2008;18:326-31.

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