FDA Assesses Risk of Amalgam Fillings: A 200-Year Controversy
Tens of millions of Americans receive tooth fillings each year. Thirty to sixty percent of these are silver fillings, or amalgam, an industry standard since the 1800s. Yet dental amalgam, a variable mixture of metals, is half mercury, a known neurotoxin.
It’s a 200-year controversy. The American Dental Association continues to argue for the safety of amalgam based on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s report that 34 studies show no evidence that such fillings are dangerous except for rare allergic reactions. An FDA advisory panel has concluded that characterizing amalgam fillings as safe is “unreasonable,” especially for pregnant women and children.
“While I don’t advocate wholesale replacement of existing amalgam fillings, you need to know what’s going into your mouth,” says Dr. Michael Fleming, a Durham, North Carolina dentist recently appointed consumer representative to the FDA’s Dental Products Panel.
Despite a 40 percent decline in amalgam use since 1979 in favor of tooth-colored fillings and ceramic and gold crowns, 30 tons of mercury was still going into Americans’ mouths just five years ago. Studies show that over time this mercury vaporizes and becomes absorbed in the body.
Fleming reports that symptoms of mercury present in our system can include fatigue, decline in mental clarity, irritability, depression, poor sleep, night sweats, anxiety and pre-mature aging. “Cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal and genito-urinary symptoms also are possible,” he says.
Today “there is no justification for using amalgam,” concludes Fleming, who notes only minimal cost savings. Yet only about 30 percent of the nation’s dentists have stopped using amalgam. “For now it’s up the patient to be informed, ask questions and get a second opinion if their dentist refuses to responsibly discuss the risks,” he says.