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TOXIC DENTISTRY:

NOTHING TO SMILE ABOUT

Roughly 80 percent of all tooth restorations use dental amalgam, commonly known as "silver" fillings, which contain up to 50 percent mercury by weight. Various warnings about the toxicity of mercury have been raised. It is known that mercury is released from amalgam fillings, especially during chewing. Dorice Buck-Madronero, a member of Mothers & Others, asks, "Why is an EPA-regulated toxic substance like mercury allowed to be placed in our mouths?" Buck-Madronero is also a member of DAMS, or Dental Amalgam Mercury Syndrome, a nonprofit group concerned about the dangers of dental amalgam. A controversial article by M.F. Ziff, D.D.S., published in Advances in Dental Research (September 1992) states:

The medical scientific community is now in general agreement that ... the average daily absorption of mercury from dental amalgam is from 3-17 micrograms per day, and that the amalgam mercury absorption averages 1-6 times the average mercury absorption from dietary sources. But are there toxic effects associated with that exposure? That's where the controversy begins. (In addition, the amount of mercury released from fillings is in dispute -- the American Dental Association estimates between 2-4 micrograms per day). Some of the concerns about possible effects include:

Kidney dysfunction: One study by researchers at the University of Calgary in Canada (American Journal of Physiology, 1991) found that sheep treated with fillings had impaired kidney function. But human studies to date have showed no evidence of this.

Nerve damage: Numerous studies identify mercury as a neurotoxin. But it's unclear whether exposure from dental amalgam can cause neurotoxic effects. High levels of mercury have been found, in some studies, in the brains of people with Alzheimer's -- but that doesn't mean it causes the disease. A study of elderly women published in the JADA (November 1995) found no association between existing amalgams and tests of cognitive functioning.

Increased stillbirths and birth defects: The Calgary studies in sheep showed that mercury released from amalgam fillings was absorbed by the fetus during pregnancy; some studies in humans suggest an association between stillbirths or birth defects and mercury levels in the umbilical cord blood and in the mother's blood. However, no conclusive link has been established between adverse reproductive effects and mercury exposure through amalgams or vapor in dental offices.

Allergic/hypersensitive reactions: Dental materials -- not just amalgam -- can, in rare instances, cause allergic or hypersensitive reactions. Some people have a chronic inflammatory reaction of the gums near a filling. Patch testing for mercury allergy is a difficult procedure and should be carried out by a dermatologist in an allergy clinic.

Development of antibiotic resistance: Anne Summers, a microbiologist at University of Georgia, has found a connection between mercury leached from amalgam and antibiotic resistance, as reported in Environmental Health Perspectives (August, 1996). In her studies with monkeys and human subjects, Summers finds that mercury contributes to populations of mercury-resistant bacteria in the intestines, which is linked to subsequent development of resistance to penicillin, streptomycin and tetracycline.

Still, the National Institute of Dental Research maintains that no other restorative material offers the combined strength, durability, and affordability of amalgam. In 1993 the U.S. Public Health Service released a report which said that dental amalgam should continue to be used, given the absence of scientific proof of a human health hazard. But it also said that the potential for subtle, undetected effects from low-level mercury exposure from dental amalgam cannot be totally disregarded.

Many other countries have considered or already taken steps to eliminate dental amalgam's use. For example, the Federal Public Health Office of Germany recommends against using amalgam in pregnant women, in patients with specific forms of kidney disease and in children under age six. In 1992, the Swedish parliament approved a general plan to phase out mercury from all sources, including amalgam. In 1994 Sweden proposed to cease using amalgam entirely by 1997; a final decision is still pending. Canadian health authorities recommend against amalgam use in pregnant women and in those with impaired kidney function. Studies in Denmark and Sweden suggest that dental clinics appear to be responsible for much of the mercury collected in sludge by water purification plants. This sludge cannot be recycled as fertilizer. In several European countries it is mandatory that dental clinics install a device to separate amalgam from water.

What YOU Can Do: Fillings

What YOU Can Do: Sealants


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