Monday, December 04, 2006

Little risk from mercury in amalgam fillings

By DR. MICHAEL T. ROSEN, Special to The News Journal
Posted Monday, December 4, 2006

Q: A friend of mine was recently told by his dentist that he should have all of his silver fillings removed. It was suggested that the mercury in the fillings was dangerous to his health, could cause all sorts of problems and the fillings should be replaced as soon as possible. Do you believe that silver fillings are dangerous?

A: I have my own feelings about silver or amalgam fillings (same things), but I spent a fair amount of time reviewing the scientific literature before answering your question. My answer is a mix of science and my own personal opinion.

Amalgam fillings are approximately a 50/50 mix of mercury and powdered metals (mostly silver). The mix has been used for more than 100 years. It has been shown to be relatively safe, long lasting, easy to use and very cost-effective.

Generally speaking, amalgam fillings are safe, or at least there are no credible studies that show they are harmful. There is, however, concern that the mercury in the fillings will be released into your body and cause health problems, including multiple sclerosis. But even The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has found no evidence to relate this disease to amalgam fillings.

If you're concerned, it is possible to have yourself tested for mercury exposure. Intra-oral tests are not supposed to be that accurate. Blood and hair-sample testing, available from your physician, is more diagnostic.

Based on my experience and my research, I wouldn't remove the fillings because of a potential health hazard. You are more likely to damage a tooth unnecessarily than you are to protect your health.

Having said that, I would steer away from using amalgam on potentially sensitive individuals like women who are pregnant or children. I usually replace amalgam fillings when teeth are cracked or broken, there is re-decay or when they just plain wear out.

Every once in a while a nervous patient will come in the door after receiving some scary mercury information. After an open discussion about the facts, I am more than happy to replace the amalgam with another material to relieve the patient's fears.

In my growing holistic view of life, I believe that as with environmental and seasonal allergies, medications and even foods, some people can be more sensitive to a given material than the majority of the population. I am not willing to simply accept the lack of harmful data as proof of safety. That, and the existence of what I believe to be better choices, has kept me from placing a silver filling for more years than I can count.

But I also see no reason to remove an amalgam filling simply because it is an amalgam filling. The patient's greatest exposure to the mercury is probably during the time that the fillings are placed and again when the fillings are removed. It makes sense to me that the longer the fillings are in a patient's mouth, the less the risk of mercury exposure there is.

Dr. Michael T. Rosen, a Wilmington dentist, writes this column for The News Journal. You may e-mail him questions at or by going to Personal replies are not possible.