Dental patients with more than eight amalgam fillings may have higher levels of mercury, according to a new study from the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health. The study, which will be published in the journal, Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, later this year, is the first of its kind to show a definitive connection between amalgam dental fillings and mercury levels in the body. High levels of mercury exposure can impact health and result in muscle atrophy, vision impairment, and neurological disorders. This research bolsters new movements in dental medicine to treat teeth using biomimetic, or lifelike materials, instead of traditional mercury amalgam.
Amalgam fillings are made up of approximately 50 percent mercury, along with silver, tin, and other metals. Mercury amalgams have been used in teeth since 1826, and there have been concerns surrounding their safety for nearly as long. Shortly after that, they were put into use, they were suspected of having numerous health consequences, and dentists were encouraged to avoid using them. However, many dentists continued to use this them despite warnings because they were cheaper and easier to use than gold, which was then the mercury amalgam alternative.
Even the modern history of dental amalgam fillings is rife with controversies and concerns. Studies conducted throughout the last 30 years show that mercury exposure impacts kidney, adrenal glands, the digestive tract and more in animals in both adult and fetal stages. In 1989, a research conducted by Swedish scientists also showed that dental professionals had 40 percent higher levels of mercury than nondentist participants.
Some dentists and scientists against the use of mercury in dentistry have organized to form groups like Dental Amalgam Mercury Solutions, or DAMS, which aims to stop the use of mercury amalgams in dentistry and to educate dentists and their patients on the risks of mercury exposure. Many dentists opt to practice mercury-free dentistry by practicing biomimetic dentistry.
Dr. James Erpenbach is a biomimetic dentist in Knoxville, Tennessee. Erpenbach uses materials that mimic the tooth’s enamel to fill cavities. "The materials used to treat cavities and tooth decay in biomimetic dentistry are mercury free – so there is no risk of exposure." An additional benefit of using biomimetic materials that are similar to the tooth enamel’s is that the fillings can strongly bond with the tooth and seal out bacteria that causes decay.
"Tooth decay and cavities are common conditions, and many people go to their dentists for fillings. Many patients just trust what their dentist is doing and that the materials used safe," says Erpenbach. "While one mercury amalgam filling has low impact and may not be considered dangerous," he continued, "Mercury is still poisonous. Increased fillings mean increased exposure. The risk of negative health outcomes also goes up."
The results of the University of Georgia study show that patients with more than eight fillings have much higher levels – up to 150 more - of mercury in their blood that patients with no mercury amalgam fillings.
Most Americans have three amalgam fillings on average, but a quarter of the country’s population has over 11 fillings – and a huge health risk. "Many individuals are likely suffering health issues as a result of mercury poisoning and don’t even realize it," says Erpenbach. "Many dentists are not even aware of its toxic effect," he continued. Mercury has even been found to make some bacteria strains antibiotic resistant.
Dental amalgam containing mercury is still considered safe for use in adults by the United States Food and Drug Administration and cautions pregnant patients to discuss their concerns regarding mercury with their dentists and physicians. Parents of children under the age of six should go to their dentist with their concerns. However, Erpenbach advises all dental patients to discuss amalgam fillings with their dentists and research alternative treatment options, like mercury free dentistry and biomimetic dentistry. "Do you really want to just take someone else’s word for it?" he asks.