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Amalgam fillings are often called silver fillings because of its appearance and composition. In preparation of amalgam, the metal powders of silver (35%), tin (13%), copper (2%) and a trace of zinc are mixed with pure liquid mercury (50%). This rather flexible, plastic mixture, resembling painter’s or plumber’s putty, can be easily shaped and formed to fill any holes, grooves or cracks in harder materials.
Mercury is extremely toxic and causes irreversible damage to the nervous system.
The first records of amalgam use appeared in the Chinese literature in 659 A.D.
Western countries have been using amalgam as a dental fillings material for more than 150 years. However, in the modern society, as we advanced in understanding the toxicity of mercury, many products, which were widely used in the past (thermometers, barometric measuring mechanisms, etc.) are now forbidden and taken of the market. Ironically, placing mercury in our mouth is still considered to be a normal procedure.
After reviewing a number of studies, scientific literature and research data on the toxicity of mercury, in August 1984, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued its Final Report – Mercury Health Effects Update.
In its Abstract, the report summarized the findings:
“Uptake of mercury vapor is through inhalation, whereas uptake of inorganic and methyl mercury compounds is primarily through oral ingestion. Once absorbed, mercury in all forms is distributed via the bloodstream to all tissues in the body. Mercury vapor and methyl mercury readily cross the blood-brain and placental barriers.
Chronic exposures to mercury compounds primarily affect the central nervous system and kidneys. Depending upon the form of mercury and level of intake, effects on the adult nervous system can range from reversible paresthesias and malaise to irreversible destruction of neurons in the cerebellar and visual cortices, leading to permanent signs of ataxia and constriction of the visual field. Prenatal life is the most sensitive stage of the life cycle to methyl mercury poisoning, with effects in infants ranging from psychomotor retardation to a severe form of cerebral palsy. All prenatal effects to date have been found to be irreversible.”
Several years later, in December 1997, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has published MERCURY STUDY REPORT TO CONGRESS, VOLUME V – HEALTH EFFECTS OF MERCURY AND MERCURY COMPOUNDS.
Addressing the inhalation of mercury vapors, the report states:
“The absorption of elemental mercury vapor occurs rapidly through the lungs, but it is poorly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Once absorbed, elemental mercury is readily distributed throughout the body; it crosses both placental (Clarkson et al., 1972) and blood-brain barriers (Hursh et al., 1976; Nordberg and Serenius, 1969). Once elemental mercury crosses these barriers and is oxidized to the mercuric ion, return to the general circulation is impeded, and mercury can be retained in brain tissue. The elimination of elemental mercury occurs via urine, feces, exhaled air, sweat, and saliva.”
Furthermore: “Effects on the nervous system appear to be the most sensitive toxicological endpoint observed following exposure to elemental mercury. Symptoms associated with elemental mercury-induced neurotoxicity include the following: tremors, initially affecting the hands and sometimes spreading to other parts of the body; emotional lability, often referred to as “erethism” and characterized by irritability, excessive shyness, confidence loss, and nervousness; insomnia; neuromuscular changes (e.g., weakness, muscle atrophy, muscle twitching); headaches; polyneuropathy (e.g., paresthesia, stockingglove sensory loss, hyperactive tendon reflexes, slowed sensory and motor nerve conduction velocities); and memory loss and performance deficits in test of cognitive function. At higher concentrations, adverse renal effects and pulmonary dysfunction may also be observed.
A few studies have provided suggestive evidence for potential reproductive toxicity associated with exposure to elemental mercury.”
Pointing to how easily mercury vapors penetrate human tissues, the report noted that: “Studies in human volunteers have shown that approximately 75–85% of an inhaled dose of elemental mercury vapor was absorbed by the body (Nielsen-Kudsk 1965; Oikawa et al. 1982; Teisinger and Fiserova-Bergerova 1965; Hursh 1985; Hursh et al. 1985).”
This is a rare event in our society where the new scientific, medical discoveries, supported by abandon data are being strategically muffled and intentionally ignored by certain interests. While in many European countries, which care for the safety and wellbeing of their citizens, the use of amalgam fillings has been banned, in the USA the dental insurances, even today, are forcing dentists to use amalgam fillings. When paying the dentists for fillings made of other, more expensive but safe materials, insurance companies routinely downgrade reimbursements to doctors to the level of amalgam fees.
So, why ADA still supports the use of amalgam fillings in adults and children, containing one of the most toxic elements found on our planet?
1. Amalgam is inexpensive compare to other broadly used and superior composite materials. (Dental insurances are paying less.)
2. Filling the cavity with amalgam takes less time for any dentist, as it does not require much skill. (Professional labor costs are less.)
3. Placing amalgam fillings does not require additional training and equipment as with alternative, modern materials. (Professional expenses are less.)
4. Admission and acknowledgement of the toxicity and damaging effect of mercury on human organs and tissues can potentially bring legal liability for being used in dentistry in the past.