Is Mercury in Fillings Really a Problem?
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"When people are seeking advice I think it's only right that they get to hear that there are other opinions," says DeLong, who had his own silver fillings removed 24 years ago.
DeLong uses the mercury detector to show patients how much mercury vapor is released from their fillings. Chewing and eating or drinking hot foods and beverages increase the amount of vapor that is released, although small amounts of vapor are released all the time.
The ADA insists once the filling is placed in the tooth, a person's exposure to mercury vapors is minimal.
"There have been a number of studies looking at the potential effects of mercury from amalgam in the general population, and the preponderance of evidence is that there is no relationship between the presence of amalgam fillings and any disease condition," says ADA spokesman J. Rodway Mackert, PhD.
"Therefore there's no reason for a patient to avoid placement of amalgam fillings, and there's no reason to have amalgam fillings removed for the purpose of trying to alleviate any disease condition," says Mackert, who is a professor at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.
But DeLong says by the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency, the amount of mercury in one filling is enough to contaminate a 10-acre pond, making the fish that live in the pond over the mercury limit for human consumption.
"It's hazardous waste," DeLong says of a filling that has been removed. "You have to dispose of it properly, you have to send it to an EPA-licensed facility that handles mercury waste -- this is the very material that just came out of a person's mouth."
There are numerous options to silver fillings, including tooth-colored resin, porcelain, and gold fillings -- all of which are considerably more expensive. Some dentists say colleagues who encourage patients to have silver fillings removed and replaced with the more expensive fillings are just making money off the controversy.
Charles G. Brown, the Washington attorney who represents DeLong, four other dentists, and seven patients in the lawsuit, says American dentists are dropping the ball on an important health issue.