Mercury Filings May Pose Health Risks, FDA Panel Says

After just taking another look, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) advisory committee announced that the FDA should look at current data on the use of the toxic metal, <"">mercury, in dental fillings, known as amalgam. The new data may point to potential medical problems for patients who have received amalgam fillings, said CNN.

The panel listened to two days of expert testimony, as well as testimony from the public and those in the dental industry, and recommended that the agency look at new data since the FDA’s 2009 ruling that mercury in dental fillings poses no harm, wrote CNN. Members of the committee did point out that in 2009, based on data then available, that the FDA’s findings were appropriate, noted CNN.

Some feel the prior data was flawed. “We need to see where the science is and if there are gaps.” said panel chairwoman, Dr. Marjorie Jeffcoat, a dentist and researcher with the University of Pennsylvania, quoted CNN.

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 recently. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that high mercury levels can damage major organs as well as 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 point out that fetuses and children might be more sensitive to the heavy metal, said CNN.

The FDA says, wrote the LA Times, that the amalgam used in dentistry 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, which, in high levels, is linked to brain and kidney disorders. According to CNN, 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 metal’s toxic composition is well known and well documented, there is a dearth of information on its use in dentistry, explained CNN.

At the public hearing yesterday, 30 people stepped forward to testify for and against amalgam fillings with those against discussing diagnoses of mercury poisoning; health problems; and multiple medical issues such as memory loss, vision problems, miscarriages, and paralysis, said CNN, pointing out that on the other side, many dental professionals cited the relative cheapness and durability of amalgam fillings.

Despite some in the dental industry saying there are no issues with the toxic metal, Dr. Stephen Markus, a Philadelphia-based dentist discussed American Dental Association (ADA) disposal warnings. “I always wondered why we were told by the (ADA) to be careful when disposing of mercury. If it’s so dangerous to the environment, why not my patients?” quoted CNN.

The committee recommended the agency develop models to review the effects of mercury vapor exposure from dental fillings, said CNN, which also explained that while the committee’s recommendations are given to the FDA board for consideration, and that while the board is not mandated to adopt the recommendations, it generally does.

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