Mercury Dental Fillings Create Controversy

The controversy over <"">mercury used in dental fillings continued this week at a town hall meeting in Florida in which a number of activists are seeking governmental restrictions or bans on the use of the toxic metal in dental fillings, said the LA Times.

As we’ve previously reported, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that dental amalgam is composed of metals including liquid mercury and a powdered amalgam alloy of silver, copper, and tin. The amalgam releases a vaporous form of mercury that can be absorbed by the body, said the LA Times, previously, which, in high levels, is linked to brain and kidney disorders. Amalgam contains 50 percent mercury.

One issue of concern is that mercury can accumulate in the body over time, making diseases and disorders potentially linked to one’s exposure, difficult to diagnose. Another issue is that while the heavy metal’s toxic composition is well known and well documented, there is a dearth of information on its use in dentistry.

Although mercury is classified as toxic, the FDA has deemed amalgam fillings safe; however, points out the LA Times, a number of European countries—Sweden, Denmark, and Norway, for example—have banned mercury fillings. Dentists can use fillings made of composite materials or gold; however, these are considered more expensive than the cheaper mercury amalgams, said the LA Times.

The Orlando, Florida hearing was led by Dr. Jeff Shuren, head of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiologic Health who explained that the scientific panel was reconvened to look at the FDA’s stance on the fillings, said the LA Times. Dr. Shuren did not say what the FDA might do or when it plans on making a decision but did say, “If I had my druthers, I would like to say something this year,” said Shuren, quoted the LA Times. “I empathize with all the people who have experienced medical problems, whatever the cause may be,” Shuren said. “We take it seriously, which is why we’ve reconvened our scientific advisory panel,” he added.

Previously, the FDA said, citing studies, that the mercury used in amalgams is “not high enough to cause harm” to patients quoted the LA Times. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that high mercury levels can damage major organs and the immune system, especially in the developing fetus. In its final rule, the FDA found that studies did not point to a link between amalgam and health reactions in people age six and older, but did say fetuses and children might be more sensitive to the heavy metal.

After taking another look, the FDA advisory committee announced that the agency should look at current data, since its prior 2009 findings, on the use of the toxic metal in dental fillings. The new data may point to potential medical problems for patients who have received amalgam fillings. This led to this week’s town hall.

At the recent town hall, a number of consumers and dentists spoke up against the use of dental amalgam, citing symptoms that included “double vision, droopy eyelids, and a loss of equilibrium,” which remitted with the removal of the fillings, said the LA Times. Some dentists speaking at the town hall noted that amalgam, although deemed safe for dental work by the FDA, must be treated as a hazardous waste when removed from patients’ mouths, pointing to a contradiction in how the heavy metal is perceived.

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