Mercury Amalgam Fillings
By Dr. Eda Ellis, DDS, Central Park Dental Spa
Originally published in AMERICAN FITNESS, July/August 2007
Central Park, New York – In recent years, medical headlines have debated the benefits of mercury amalgam fillings as various groups proposed that the toxicity of mercury puts people at risk for disease. Although current research shows that you will be exposed to mercury through the placenta before you are even born and you will continue to be exposed to it through the air you breathe, the food you eat and the personal products such as hair dye, mascara and tattoo ink, few people know that dental amalgam fillings constitute the largest single source of inorganic mercury exposure, larger than all other environmental sources including air, water and food.
Risks of Mercury Amalgam Fillings
Used in traditional dentistry as an inexpensive treatment for cavities, a silver amalgam is a mixture or almost 50 percent mercury with the remainder composed of silver tin and copper, indium, palladium and traces of zinc. Almost 12 micrograms of mercury may be released daily as vapor from a single filling as it wears. The vapor is immediately absorbed into the bloodstream through the oral mucosa. However, this is still less than the amount you are exposed to in the environment.
Studies have shown that mercury accumulates in all adult tissue, including the kidney, liver and brain. High levels of mercury in the brain, the pituitary gland, the thyroid and the reproductive organs can affect the production of hormones related to growth and blood pressure maintenance. In fact, a woman’s ability to conceive might be related to concentrations of mercury in her body.
Mercury may also lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Human autopsy data have shown a higher concentration of the metal in the memory-related areas of Alzheimer patient’s brains than in age-matched healthy brains. Some research also suggests that symptoms of certain diseases and health conditions may actually worsen if there is a high concentration of mercury in the body.
Your Mercury Threshold
Although you’re exposed to mercury on a daily basis, how much you are affected by this heavy metal is determined by how long you’ve been exposed, and by lifestyle choices, such as nutrition and exercise routines, and also a genetically predetermined ability or inability to detoxify mercury. Your mercury threshold is the amount of mercury you can handle before symptoms appear. Elemental mercury passes through the intestinal tract without being absorbed. But organic compounds of mercury such as methylmercury (in fish) or mercury vapor (in industry) are very toxic, especially to the nervous system. The amount of mercury released from your fillings depends on how you chew, how often you brush your teeth, and the food you eat — hot, acidic and salty foods are especially known for wearing the amalgam down.
If your mercury threshold is high, you can live a lifetime without ever experiencing the symptoms commonly related to exposure. However, if your mercury threshold is low, you should consider having your amalgam fillings replaced with alternative materials such as composite resin to avoid problems in the future. A doctor can rate your risk of mercury exposure with a thorough history and physical and then use this data to determine your threshold.
Removing a Mercury Amalgam Filling
The removal of amalgam fillings shouldn’t be taken lightly, as there are some risks involved. First, there is the possibility that you and your doctor will be exposed to mercury and mercury vapor during the treatment. To avoid contamination, make sure that your doctor is taking basic precautions, such as performing the treatment in a well-ventilated room, using large amounts of water and high-volume suction and providing safety glasses for you. Some dentists may even offer you a protective nosepiece that draws air from another room or from a nitrous oxide/oxygen tank to avoid contaminating you. Also make certain that your doctor uses a rubber dam to maintain a dry area around the tooth in question. By holding back the saliva, the dam prevents you from swallowing particles of the drilled amalgam and limits the absorbtion of mercury vapor into the surrounding tissues.
Since some exposure is inevitable, your dentist should create a personalized detoxification program for you, before and after the filling replacement. Prior to the procedure, take special care in replenishing natural detoxifiers lost through sweat, urine and bowel movements by eating sulfur-rich food such as egg yolks and taking prescribed dietary supplements that contain glutathione and selenium. After the amalgam fillings are removed and replaced with alternative materials, you may be prescribed two “2,3-Dimercapto-1-propanesulfonate” (DMPS), a known antidote for metal poisoning as well as dietary supplements such as lactobacillus capsules, vitamin C, probiotics, natural cellular defense zeolites and CoenzymeQ10 (CoQ10). Your doctor might also suggest green tea, lemon juice in water three times a day, cilantro oil (the first known substance to mobilize mercury from the central nervous system) and beet juice powder, a natural blood cleanser.
Precautions When Removing Amalgam Fillings
It is important to avoid amalgam removal if you’re thinking about becoming pregnant, are pregnant, or are currently breastfeeding, as exposure to the metal is especially harmful during early human development. Also, if you know you’re sensitive to certain plastics or chemicals, request a test from your doctor to determine the best replacement material for you.
It’s impossible to avoid all mercury exposure, but the removal of mercury amalgam fillings can significantly lower your risk of developing chronic kidney, liver and brain disorders if you are at high risk for mercury toxicity. Before deciding to replace your fillings, talk to your dentist about the risks involved and whether the procedure is right for you. Most importantly, keep in mind that this is a personal decision and you should never feel pressured by your doctor. AMERICAN FITNESS, JULY/AUGUST 2007