Mercury Dental Amalgams
Mercury Dental Amalgams – Analyzing the Debate
by Gary Null – Revised May 2001
Note: The information on this website is not a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a qualified, licensed professional.
THE DANGERS OF MERCURY
Increasingly, however, the ADA’s pro-mercury position flies in the face of scientific evidence proving amalgam’s dangers. As far back as 1980, the World Health Organization identified elemental mercury vapor (the form leached by amalgam) as one of the two most hazardous types of mercury to human health.15 And research has shown that chronic exposure to small amounts of mercury can lead to a long list of ailments, affecting everything from the nervous and immune systems to brain and kidney functioning.
The symptoms linked to habitual mercury exposure include the following: anemia, anorexia, colitis, depression, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, hormonal disturbances, hypertension, impaired coordination, impaired hearing/ vision, insomnia, intestinal problems, irritability, joint pains, kidney damage, memory impairment, metallic taste, numbness, peripheral neuritis, psychoses, tremors and weakness.(29,30)
One study of 1,320 mercury-toxic patients shows just how prevalent these symptoms can be: 73% suffered from chronic irritability; 72% had chronic depression, with about one-third of these demonstrating suicidal tendencies; and 67% had numbness and tingling in the hands and feet.(31)
A more recent study of patients undergoing amalgam removal and chelation therapy found that the most common complaints were problems with memory and/or concentration; muscle and/or joint pain; anxiety and insomnia; stomach, bowel, and bladder complaints; depression; food or chemical sensitivities; numbness or tingling; and eye symptoms, in descending order of frequency. The most distressing symptoms were headache and backache, fatigue, and memory and concentration problems.(32)
Even small amounts of the potent mercury can trigger adverse effects. At exposure levels of only 10 to 30 micrograms per day, researchers have reported changes in body functions such as thyroid uptake, liver function, heart EKG, adrenal gland activity and immunologic responses. One study noted changes in conditioned reflexes at mercury concentrations as low as 2 to 5 micrograms per day.(33)
Meanwhile, a newly placed, multi-surface filling in a molar can contain 750 to 1,000 milligrams of mercury and release up to 1 microgram per day of mercury.(34) A1991 WHO report calculates the average daily intake of mercury from dental amalgams alone to be 3.8-21 micrograms per day.(35) An independent 1995 study conducted for Sweden’s National Board of Occupational Safety and Health put the figure at 4-19 micrograms.(36) A 1998 study conducted at Sweden’s prestigious Karolinska Institute estimated the intake at 5-9 micrograms per day.(37)
What is a safe level of exposure to mercury from amalgam fillings? The United States Public Health Service has an answer to that question. In 1994 the service published a report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) entitled “Toxicological Profile for Mercury.”
The document sets a minimal risk level (MRL) for chronic and acute exposure to mercury vapor for the general population at 0.28 micrograms mercury per day. It sets an acute exposure MRL at 0.4 microgram. The document openly acknowledges that these levels are far below the levels of the daily exposure provided by mercury amalgam fillings.(38) Therefore, the average daily intake of mercury from amalgam fillings, as agreed upon by several international health agencies, is 10 to 50 times higher than what is considered safe by the United States government!(39)
In essence, mercury is one of multiple stressors that can build up in the body and contribute to disease, says Dr. Robert Rowen, a member of the Academy of Environmental Medicine and the American College for the Advancement of Medicine. Along with malnutrition, allergens, electromagnetic fields and environmental pollutants, mercury will take its toll on the body systems.
Dr. Douglas Phillips describes the process of mercury-related illness like this: “Once heavy metals get deposited in your body, your body makes an effort to mobilize those metals. And it does that by become more acid. Then you’re exposed to bacteria, fungi, and viruses, and they can really take hold, because they love an acid environment. As they take hold, your immune system get more and more depressed, and you develop multiple chemical sensitivities.
Then you’ve got a person who’s really struggling.” Phillips cites research done by Dr. Yoshiaki Omura implicating mercury toxicity from amalgam fillings in every major illness including cancer, multiple sclerosis, ALS, and Parkinson’s disease.(40)
But despite the severity of its effects, mercury toxicity can be extremely difficult to diagnose with a simple blood test. The mercury leaches into the bloodstream in very small amounts, but it only stays there for a short time before depositing in the body tissues, says Dr. Sandra Denton, a board member of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology. “Instead of looking at the symptoms of mercury (poisoning), the doctors are looking for the mercury and therefore are missing the diagnosis,” she says.(41) The ADA maintains that mercury levels in the blood and urine of people with amalgams are not generally high; therefore amalgam fillings are not causing harm.
This common defense for the amalgam demonstrates a lack of understanding of this element. Mercury is quickly absorbed by the tissues and can easily enter brain tissue after crossing the blood brain barrier or latch on to a developing fetus after passing through the placenta. This is especially true of mercury vapor where between 74 and 100 percent is assimilated. Once settled into tissue, mercury is slow to leave, averaging 30-70 days for the elimination of one dose. Mercury never leaves the system entirely because the amalgam is continuously leaching the stuff into our systems.(42)
Blood and urine tests measure the amount of mercury being expelled from the body. Elevated blood and urine levels, therefore, mean that a person is getting rid of mercury. They do not reflect the amount of mercury present in tissue. Mercury toxicity is a retention toxicity meaning that a good percentage of the mercury that goes into our bodies does not come out. If mercury has damaged the kidneys, that will further prevent its release into the urine.
The scientific literature states that there are no valid tests for diagnosing chronic mercury poisoning. Even the National Institute of Dental Health and the ADA have admitted that “The distribution of mercury into the body tissues is highly variable and there appears to be little correlation between levels in urine, blood, or hair and toxic effects.”(43)
In addition, the symptoms themselves can be so diverse that a diagnosis of mercury poisoning remains quite difficult, says Dr. Hal Huggins, a dentist in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the director of the Huggins Diagnostic Center. The lack of an easy and accurate diagnosis lulls the public into underestimating the dangers of mercury amalgams.
“If we knew that (mercury) went to the same place every time, it would be easy to get a verdict against it,” says Huggins. “But in one person (it can cause) mental problems, another person may have neurological problems and another may have problems with the heart beating fast. There are so many things that can happen, that it’s very difficult to tell what is the diagnosis of mercury toxicity.(44)
“The disease symptoms are insidious and overlap with the symptoms of many other diseases,” points out Dr. Alfred V. Zamm, environmental medicine pioneer and author of Why Your House May Endanger Your Health. “Mercury poisoning is the greatest masquerader of our time. Dentists are not in a position to see the cause and effect relationship of the insertion of mercury and the development of illness three to ten years later. Even the patient himself does not connect the illness to the original dental process.”(45)