Mercury Fillings Under FDA Spotlight

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning on taking another look at the use of the toxic metal, <"">mercury, in dental fillings. The LA Times said that it was a push by advocates—dental and consumer—that has prompted the agency to review, again, mercury in dental fillings, known as amalgam.

About 18 years ago, the FDA said, citing studies, that the mercury used in amalgams is “not high enough to cause harm” to patients said the LA Times. 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 a press briefing last week, Nancy Stade, deputy director for policy in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said that the new analysis is “not being taken because of new data,” and “at this time, the FDA is not modifying its existing guidance” that mercury fillings are not dangerous, said the LA Times.

The FDA says, wrote the LA Times, that the amalgam used in dentistry, is composed of metals that include liquid mercury as well as 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, added the LA Times.

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.

Now, some are questioning the thoroughness of the studies suggesting that mercury used in dental work is safe; four petitions have been sent to the FDA, according to Stade, wrote the LA Times.

The American Dental Association (ADA) is against placing restrictions on amalgam, which has been used for over 150 years and on hundreds of millions of patients, said the LA Times. As for the FDA, it classified amalgam as a moderate-risk saying that levels of mercury released to the body are “not high enough to cause harm in patients,” quoted the LA Times. That classification was made in 2009 following a lawsuit by anti-amalgam groups that were looking to have mercury put on the FDA classification as a medical device in the hopes that that step could lead toward the restriction, and ultimate banning, of its use in dentistry, said the LA Times.

The FDA does not warn about the potential harm of the heavy metal to children and women of childbearing age despite that consuming too much mercury can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and other neurological problems.

Although specific recommendation will not be considered, some technical issues will be discussed about how mercury is measured, if current safety levels are appropriate, and if existing studies are reliable, said the LA Times.

One of the issues is that if amalgam fillings are ultimately found to be of risk, then millions must determine if they should have their dental work redone, said the LA Times. And, noted the LA Times, who will be paying for the corrective procedures should one decide to remove amalgam dental work be paid?

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