Just Saying “No” to Dental Mercury – a Progress Report

You know how we mentioned that the pace of progress toward getting mercury out of dentistry seemed to be picking up? (If you didn’t, you can read about it here. Don’t worry. We’ll wait for you.) It may be getting even faster.

Recently, the European Union voted to ban dental mercury completely. As of January 1, 2025, EU dentists – with very few exceptions – will no longer be allowed to fill teeth with amalgam, an alloy of silver, copper, and other metals that’s mixed with liquid mercury. The manufacture, export, and import of dental amalgam will be forbidden, as well.

The use of dental amalgam, which consists of approximately 50% mercury, greatly contributes to mercury pollution and poses an environmental threat to ecosystems. Owing to rising health concerns about the material, stringent regulations have been imposed to phase down amalgam use and to ensure safe disposal in dental practices, in line with the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which entered into force in 2017. Additionally, using the material for treating pregnant or breastfeeding women, as well as children under the age of 15, has been banned in the EU since 1 July 2018. Dentists in the Philippines have been prohibited from using amalgam as a restorative material since last year.

Here in the US, the FDA now only recommends that amalgam not be used in certain at-risk populations, including children; women who are nursing, pregnant, or planning a pregnancy; people with certain pre-existing health conditions; and those who are sensitive to mercury or any other component of dental amalgam.

Of course, they used to insist that amalgam was completely safe for everyone, so even this shift in guidance was a very big deal. But we need to do more. After all, mercury is one of the most toxic elements on Earth. Anyone with “silver” fillings is breathing in some measure of mercury 24/7. Some is excreted, but some is absorbed by the body, building up in organs such as the kidneys and brain.

That burden is at the center of a new study that was just published in Human & Experimental Toxicology, which analyzed mercury vapor exposure in pregnant women.

To do so, the researchers used data from a large health survey conducted by the CDC between 2015 and 2020, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and focused on the amount of mercury vapor exposure in about 1.67 million pregnant women.

While many dentists and patients now prefer tooth-colored fillings, around 120 million Americans still have mercury amalgam in their mouths. Roughly 1 in 3 women included in the survey had at least one “silver” filling.

Analysis showed that the more fillings they had, the more mercury they excreted in their urine compared to women without these fillings. Importantly, nearly 30% of these women were exposed to daily mercury vapor doses from their fillings that exceeded the safety limits set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The findings of this study underscore the need for heightened awareness of the risks to dental patients and policy shifts regarding the use of dental amalgams,” said IAOMT president Dr. Charles Cuprill in a recent news release.

FDA warnings on amalgam are not enough. Mercury amalgam dental fillings should be banned by the FDA as they pose a serious risk to the health of all individuals who have amalgam fillings, especially pregnant women and those of reproductive age.

We agree. And the sooner, the better.

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