Mercury Amalgam 101
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   Mind     Body     Mouth

Issue #5, September 2016

Mercury Amalgam: Toxic In, Toxic Out!

mercury amalgam fillingsIf you’re savvy – and we suspect that you are – you may have wondered why the American Dental Association still endorses the use of mercury amalgam to fill teeth, even as other countries have banned it.

You might question how the US could ratify the global mercury treaty known as the Minamata Convention, which calls for a phase-down of amalgam, yet still encourage its dentists to use the stuff.

Maybe you’re outraged that your dental insurance company bases its coverage for white composite fillings on a mercury equivalent, ensuring the lowest common denominator for reimbursement.

But what if you don’t have amalgams or dental insurance to deal with? Dental mercury still affects you.

For one, consider that the dental industry is responsible for about half of all mercury pollution each year – more than four tons annually into the water supply alone. (Even more contaminates our air and soil.) In a continuous loop of toxicity, this dental mercury can break down into methylmercury. This accumulates in fish and fish-eating animals, posing serious risks to humans who consume them, especially pregnant women and children.

To protect yourself from harm, it’s a must to stay informed and advocate for yourself. Here are the top five things you need to know:

  1. All “silver” fillings are mercury fillings. No matter what you’re told, at roughly 50%, mercury accounts for the largest portion of material in a “silver” filling. The rest is typically silver, tin, copper, and zinc. To call them “silver” is “deceptive,” argues Consumers for Dental Choice.

  2. Mercury is a neurotoxin. All forms of mercury affect the nervous system. Symptoms include irritability, fatigue, behavioral changes, decreased cognitive function, tremors, headaches, memory loss, neuromuscular changes, kidney and thyroid dysfunction, and death. For a comprehensive look at amalgam’s toxicity – to human and environmental health alike – check out this scientific report from the IAOMT.

  3. Mercury vapors don’t bond. Though many once believed that mercury became inert when amalgamated, we now know this is just not true. Newer technologies prove that amalgam fillings constantly off-gas mercury. That vapor is potentially the most dangerous aspect of elemental mercury. Once released, they are absorbed by your body and may even be converted to methylmercury.

  4. Mercury turns your mouth into a battery. When teeth are filled with different metals, your saliva acts as a conductor between the two and creates a galvanic reaction. It creates a battery in your mouth. This can cause pain, a persistent metallic taste, headaches, and skin irritation. In some cases, research has shown, it can affect immune levels or trigger trigeminal neuralgia.

  5. Mercury must be handled as toxic waste. Unless, that is, it’s in your mouth. Before and after removal, both the EPA and our State Department of Ecology have strict regulations for handling dental mercury. Even in its amalgamated form, these agencies consider your old fillings to be dangerous toxic waste.

So Why Won’t My Insurance Pay for Tooth-Colored Fillings?

It can be hard to ask for what you want when you know it probably won’t be covered. This can leave some folks feeling they’ve been overcharged for metal-free, biocompatible alternatives. But that hinges on you being unaware of some things your insurance company probably doesn’t want you to know.

mercury amalgam vs. composite fillings

For one, they don’t care that composite restorations are technique sensitive. Unlike mercury amalgam, tooth-colored composite must bond to the tooth. Otherwise, they won’t hold up over time. So there are three basic steps in creating a white filling: etch, prime, and bond. Each layer of the composite must be light-cured into its hardened state. All of this takes time.

In contrast, mercury is not particularly technique sensitive. Though mercury can be bonded, many dentists forgo this step. Mercury can be packed into the tooth without layering or creating a dry field. And since it can literally be placed underwater, a dentist who uses mercury can do these fillings much more quickly, fitting more patients and procedures into each work day. More production, more money for the dentist.

For mercury is also cheap, and insurance covers the least expensive treatment possible. Placing composite involves more materials and equipment, as well as time. This attention to technique and detail generally means composite will always go above what your insurance likes to call “usual and customary” benefits. Beware, though: “Usual and customary” is based on a filling considered the Civil War era “gold-standard.”

Finally, insurance companies falsely believe that composite is only a cosmetic choice – one that won’t hold up on heavy use teeth like molars. That may be the case if a dentist places the materially as carelessly as amalgam. If proper bonding technique isn’t used, of course the composites will fail. But done properly, most composite fillings should last just as long as the average mercury one.

Learn more about the role insurance companies play in maintaining the dental status quo.

Images: Rob! & Bart, via Flickr
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Mercury Gets Around

As we note in our main article this month, mercury is constantly off-gassed from so-called “silver” amalgam fillings. This vapor must go somewhere, and where it goes is into your circulation. This is how it can affect so many different body systems. (What it affects and how depends on your unique biochemistry, overall health history and current challenges.)

A snapshot of just some of the damage it has been documented to do:

Brain: Poor memory, brain fog, mood swings, anxiety, depression, tremors, tics, loss of coordination, hallucination, lack of motivation, panic.

Eyes: Blurred vision, bulging eyes, sensitivity to light, poor night vision, deteriorating peripheral vision, difficulty focusing.

Ears: Dizziness, vertigo, poor balance, tinnitus, pain in ear canals, deafness, hearing loss.

Nose: Chronic sinusitis, poor sense of smell, nasal congestion, persistant sore throat, chronic tonsillitis.

Skin, Hair & Nails: Cold and clammy skin, dry skin, peeling or flaking skin, puffy face, red and itchy rashes, excessive perspiration, inability to sweat, night sweats, pricking, stabbing, fizzing or crawling sensations.

Cardiovascular System: Palpitations, irregular heartbeat, slow or rapid heart rate, high or low blood pressure, faintness, high cholesterol and homocysteine levels, easy bleeding and bruising.

Respiratory System: Asthma, bronchitis, shortness of breath, persistent cough, bad breath.

Digestive System: Food sensitivities and intolerances, abdominal cramps and pain, constipation/diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, malabsorption, leaky gut, gastroenteritis, nausea, heartburn.

Reproductive System: Late puberty, infertility, heavy or missed periods, menstrual pain, miscarriages, still births, impotence, low sperm count, sperm with poor motility.

Urinary System: Kidney damage, frequent urination day or night, incontinence, difficulty urinating, urgent urination, kidney and bladder diseases.

Musculoskeletal System: Sore muscles, muscle fatigue, joint pain, joint swelling, joint stiffness, muscle cramps, low back pain, muscle weakness, TMJ dysfunction.

Endocrine System: Poorly controlled or low blood sugar, hypothyroid, adrenal exhaustion, poor response to stress.

Ready to Know More?

Here are a few of our favorite sources for learning more about dental mercury and its impact on the health of people and planet alike – and for getting involved in the fight for a mercury-free future!

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