Have you had any teeth work done recently? Maybe you had a cavity filled. First, great job on taking care of your teeth! About 91% of Americans have tooth decay or cavities – with about 31% unable to get them treated.
This is what makes this next fact even more disappointing since it is our FDA which has approved its use in filling cavities. That silver filling you most likely had done contains 45-55% of the heavy metal mercury.
The filling material is usually referred to as a silver or amalgam filling due to its shiny, silver color when it is first applied. According to Dentaly.org, it’s comprised of only about 20% silver, 45-55% liquid mercury, 16% tin, and 15% copper – plus some other trace minerals.
While alternatives are available, silver fillings are the least expensive and the most common option covered by your insurance company. With that said, researchers explain why you should never get silver fillings.
Learn more about mercury in silver fillings
Allow me to be clear here. While fillings are referred to as “silver fillings,” it’s not the silver that has been deemed a poisonous substance. Mercury is toxic metal. While I will refer to the fillings as “silver fillings,” it is the mercury that is under research and debate.
What is mercury? Mercury is a highly toxic heavy metal with no known safe levels of exposure. It comes in three different forms.
- Elemental or metallic. This form is liquid at room temperature and is less toxic than the other two forms listed below. When mercury is heated, it evaporates and then becomes very toxic. This form of mercury is stored in your fatty tissue.
- Inorganic. This form has varying degrees of water solubility. For the most part, divalent mercuric salts are soluble in water. It has a high affinity to groups of amino acids.
- Organic. In its organic form, it is also referred to as methylmercury and ethyl mercury. This is the most dangerous form of mercury.
- Methylmercury is the most dominant form and the version that we are warned about when we eat fish. It is more easily absorbed and has shown it is better able to travel throughout our body than inorganic mercury.
- Ethyl mercury is the second organic form. It is also referred to as thiomersal in the United States. Its use includes as a preservative in some vaccines.
Mercury produced by mankind
Mercury is also a significant mankind-created pollutant of the environment. It has nearly doubled in the previous 100 years, with 70% of it exceeding any naturally released mercury. It does occur naturally through volcanoes, forest fires, rock weathering, and water movement. Mankind produces it by coal-powered power plants, burning of fossils, and creating cement. We can also release it when we mine for mercury, gold, and silver. It is an ingredient in several products we make which contain mercury: thermometers, fluorescent lamps, and “silver fillings” in teeth.
How silver fillings release mercury into our bodies
Our first exposure to mercury during a dental procedure is most common during the implant and extraction of a filling. The mercury used is liquid mercury (mercury in its elemental form). If swallowed, it does pass through our system. Mercury will only remain stored in our tissues for 55 days from the time of ingestion to excretion.
However, chronic exposure can cause it to build up over time. There is a small percentage of people who are allergic to mercury and can exhibit symptoms from receiving silver fillings.
The main problem with silver fillings is related to the vapors which can be released. We know vapors as the more deadly form. Up to 80% of it can be inhaled and absorbed into the lungs. Organs such as the kidneys, brain, lungs, liver, and gastrointestinal tract can also absorb and store the vapor of mercury.
How much gets released depends upon certain factors:
- Quantity of silver fillings.
- Size of fillings
- Chewing habits
- The texture of food we most frequently eat
- Teeth grinding
- Process of brushing our teeth
Mercury toxicity and its symptoms
- Anxiety or nervous behavior
- Irritable, angry, or other mood changes, including depression
- Sensations of numbness
- Problems with your memory
As the amount of mercury in your system increases, the symptoms become more severe. They may vary depending upon the person due to age and quantity of mercury exposure. For adults, the symptoms may be:
- The mouth has a metallic taste
- Muscles are weakening
- Nausea with or without vomiting
- Uncoordinated movements, or a decrease in motor skills
- More extreme numbness in the hands, face, and other areas
- Difficulty breathing
- Vision, hearing, or speech begins to change
- The ability to walk or stand straight becomes more difficult.
Symptoms for a child may be:
- Motor skills and hand-eye coordination become affected
- Difficulty thinking or problem-solving
- Unaware of the surroundings
Long-term mercury exposure and poisoning have led to neurological damage, cardiovascular and reproductive harm, including:
- Mental challenges and lowered IQ
- Motor skills damaged and reflexes slowed
- Becoming paralyzed
- Continued numbness
- Difficulties with memory and focus
- ADHD like symptoms
- Sperm count reduced
- Lowered fertility
- Potential deformity of the fetus, smaller birth size and decreased rate of survivability.
- Increased cell damage due to free radicals resulting in increased risk for heart attack or coronary heart disease.
The FDA and Poison Control’s position on silver fillings
In short, the FDA and Poison Control have each issued reports stating their stance on the use of mercury in silver fillings. While they acknowledge that some vapor gets released while one has silver fillings, they deem that amount too small to warrant a hazard. They hold an exception towards the small percentage of the populace allergic or hypersensitive to mercury. A quote from the FDA report states the following:
“Dental amalgam has been demonstrated to be an effective restorative material that has benefits in terms of strength, marginal integrity, suitability for large occlusal surfaces, and durability.1 Dental amalgam also releases low levels of mercury vapor, a chemical that at high exposure levels is well-documented to cause neurological and renal adverse health effects.2 Mercury vapor concentrations are highest immediately after placement and removal of dental amalgam but decline thereafter.
Ironically, within the same report from the FDA, they state this:
“Dental amalgam releases low levels of mercury vapor, with higher amounts released with mastication and gum chewing…….”
So, while they recognize that grinding your teeth and gum chewing can increase the levels of mercury vapors, they still feel the benefits outweigh the harm.
They also contest that out of the billion silver fillings applied between the years 1988-2008, only 141 cases reported potential harm. While the reports did show increased levels of mercury, the cases were not ruled as evidence due to the number of years which had passed since the implants were done.
The FDA determined that, due to this, they could not perform analysis. That makes sense. Except, it takes time before symptoms arise due to extended exposure to mercury, which then also makes it difficult for the victims to be able to prove their case absent of any other possible exposures.
Treatment for Mercury Poisoning
We can attempt to prevent mercury poisoning. Treatment can decrease levels, but not cure it. To prevent poisoning:
- Be mindful of the fish you eat. Pay attention to advisories. Don’t eat too much sushi as it often contains fish known to contain mercury. Also, mind your serving size. If pregnant, avoid any fish containing mercury, or any you are unsure of.
- Make sure to wear gloves when handling any household items containing mercury and wash your hands immediately.
- Avoid activities known to have exposure to mercury.
- Find a new job if your current job has constant mercury exposure.
Treatment for mercury poisoning consists of detoxing under a doctor’s care. This is done via a chelation treatment. This material binds the metals in your system together, allowing your body to excrete them. Afterward, avoid continued contact with the metal and allow your system to heal.
While treatments exist, if you’ve accumulated too much mercury and have begun to exhibit neurological symptoms, no cure for those symptoms exist. Once they are created, the symptoms can be handled but reducing mercury exposure will not decrease current symptoms. However, it may prevent them from worsening.
Mercury as heavy metal has been determined to be toxic to our environment, especially since we’ve created it in excess. Many countries are doing what they can to limit the production and use of mercury. Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Germany have taken the preventative measure of banning silver fillings.
While the FDA and Poison Control admit that there is a small amount of mercury exposure from vapors due to silver fillings, scientists state that there is no known safe exposure amount. Researchers have begun doing more studies that explain why you shouldn’t get silver fillings. They are just starting to publish the results.
We can find no good reason why our society should continue to use a toxic mineral. After all, it is already overproduced and its toxicity is fully understood. We have alternatives to use in place of silver fillings. At the very least, you should research all possibilities and discuss them with your dentist before any procedure.