The most common type of dental filling is the mercury amalgam filling. It is made by mixing liquid mercury with a powdered of silver, copper, and tin. This creates a putty that is approximately 50% mercury, which rapidly hardens once it has been placed in the mouth. These fillings have been used for over 150 years and in millions of teeth all over the world, according to the FDA.
Some people have reported feeling health problems which they have associated with their fillings. If you are one of those people you may be wondering whether it really is your fillings, and whether you should have them removed. Read on to find out.
Is Mercury Toxic?
Elemental mercury is toxic. Dental amalgam fillings do release small amounts of mercury vapour which can be inhaled. Large doses of mercury can cause negative effects in the brain and kidneys.
However, the FDA has assessed the scientific evidence and reports that dental amalgam is safe to use on people over 6 years of age. It says that clinical studies have found no link between dental amalgam and health problems. The reason for the minimum age limit is that younger brains may be more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of mercury.
Why is Mercury Used in Dental Fillings?
You may be wondering why a known toxic substance is used in our mouths at all, even if it probably isn’t a risk. Mercury amalgam has become the standard filling material because it is so strong and hardwearing. It’s also relatively easy to produce and is quite cheap.
What About Bioaccumulation?
Bioaccumulation is the name given to the gradual build-up of a chemical in body tissues. This happens if you are taking in a chemical that your body can’t remove. Usually, molecules that aren’t useful to the body are removed as waste when you use the bathroom, but some chemicals can’t be removed in this way. Over many years even a small amount taken in can lead to a build-up. You may therefore be worried that the fillings you received when you were a teen have been leading to many years of bioaccumulation.
The FDA does say that studies haven’t shown any damage due to mercury build-up, and they point you to further reading, here.
Should I Have My Fillings Removed?
The FDA recommends that fillings which are in good condition should be left in place, as the process of removing them can cause more mercury to be released. If you are concerned, however, and want to have your fillings removed, you should contact a SMART certified dentist. The SMART protocol stands for Safe Mercury Amalgam Removal Technique and involves a sequence of safety measures a dentist must take to ensure that exposure to mercury is reduced during the process.
We’ve written in detail about the SMART protocol before. To give a brief summary, the protocol requires the use of air filtering equipment in the room, and a separator for the waste water. In addition, the patient is given a charcoal slurry to consume beforehand so that any consumed mercury is safely removed from the body, and everyone in the room must wear protective gowns to ensure that mercury doesn’t adhere to clothing.
Considering that the FDA doesn’t consider mercury amalgam dangerous, you may be wondering why the dentist removing them has to take such precautions. Think of the last time your dentist took an x-ray of your teeth. You probably weren’t given any protection, but the dentist left the room! This is because just the one dose you received isn’t that significant, but the dentist has to take many x-rays and over time that could become a problem. The same is true for your mercury fillings. While they’re in your mouth you aren’t exposed to that much mercury, but when the dentist is removing them, you are both exposed to higher levels, so precautions are taken.
If you want to have your mercury amalgam fillings removed, and you want to ensure that they are removed according to the SMART protocol, contact Dr. Mandanas today.