Everyday Health Q & A Part 4

I was recently asked to participate on the Everyday Health Dental Expert panel. Here is another Q & A:

Why have amalgam fillings been under scrutiny?

In the early 1930s a new silver amalgam filling material was introduced to the US from France. A number of prominent dentists refused to use the new product, claiming that mercury it contained could affect mental and physical health. (A few years before, manufacturers in the felt hat industry had discovered mercury in their process was responsible for deterioration in the mental health of workers. The mad hatter – described in the novel from this time – Alice in Wonderland – shows up as an incarnation of this problem)

Although some dentists refused to use silver fillings, a new organization formed and the protest was silenced. This new organization was the American Dental Association – and their incentive was a patent they held on the new silver-filling product. Since that day there has been eighty years of debate about the benefits and hazards of silver-mercury-amalgams.

Many “health conscious” people have flocked to have silver fillings removed, unaware that the replacement white filling materials contain BisPhemol A (BPA) – an estrogen-mimicking compound that may make you fatter, advance puberty in a child and affect sex hormones. Which option is worse?

In fact, the greatest danger from mercury in a filling is during the process of placing or removing the filling. Ingestion of mercury is the concern. A silver filling should be placed under “rubber dam” (a barrier that stops any chance of particles being swallowed or inhaled during the filling process). Vapors of mercury can be inhaled when an old filling is being ground down, so adequate ventilation is essential when a filling is being changed or removed.

Left alone, in a well-protected mouth, I do not believe that old silver fillings create a health concern. In an acidic mouth where these fillings are being damaged by acidity, they may be toxic. The concern is that the mercury is ingested from broken fillings, or released from the filling. Mercury can change your gut bacteria, affect enzymes, damage your immune system, and even affect mental health.

The main concern is for people who are dedicated soda or juice drinkers, and these folks should think about changing their habits or change any silver fillings in their mouth. A major hazard to silver fillings is from peroxide – the product in most bleaching agents. Studies show that peroxide releases mercury vapor from silver fillings, promoting the dangers of mercury toxicity and also causing fillings to fail.

I suggest people avoid peroxide and whitening products (like whitening rinses and bleaching strips) and avoid long periods of mouth acidity. If you keep your teeth and mouth healthy and clean on a daily basis, old silver fillings should not cause any harm. Of course, the best advice is to avoid fillings of all kinds and enjoy the joys of naturally strong, healthy teeth – this is easy when you know how! www.DrEllie.com

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