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FDA: Possible Risk From Dental Fillings

To Settle Lawsuit, FDA Now Says Mercury From Fillings Might Pose Risk to Some
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

mercury_filling_warning!.jpg

June 5, 2008 -- Mercury from amalgam dental fillings may be toxic to children and developing fetuses, the FDA now admits.

Experts say there's no proof that dental fillings cause harm to consumers. But they also say there's no proof that the fillings -- which are half mercury by weight -- are entirely safe.

On its web site, the FDA has dropped much of its reassuring language about dental amalgam. And it's added what amounts to a warning: "Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses."

And there's more. "Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner," the FDA web site now says.

The changes come in response to a lawsuit filed by consumer groups and individuals concerned about mercury exposure. To settle the suit, the FDA agreed to update its web site.

And the federal agency also agreed to rule -- within one year -- on exactly how dental amalgam products should be regulated, and exactly what warnings consumers should receive from their dentists and doctors.

"It's been a long time coming," Nick Brooks, a staffer for Consumers for Dental Choice, one of the groups that brought the lawsuit, tells WebMD.

"This is a good thing. It will be good to have a rule finalized in a year," FDA spokeswoman Peper Long tells WebMD. "In some cases, we know mercury can have effects on the nervous system. It is something we need information on so we can give the public the best information on the risk from a product like this."

The FDA in 2002 proposed to classify the mercury-containing fillings as a Class II device -- meaning a device that isn't absolutely safe and should carry some kind of special controls (a Class I device, like a Band-Aid, needs no warning; a Class III device, like a cardiac defibrillator, requires specific FDA approval).

But the FDA never issued a final ruling. It's proposed "white paper" on the topic was voted down in a 13-7 vote by a 2006 advisory panel made up of experts in dentistry and in neurology.

Neurologist Karl Kieburtz, MD, of the University of Rochester, co-chaired the panel.

"The panel's concern was there are populations that are particularly susceptible to the neurological effects of mercury and might experience these effects at the very low levels of exposure seen with dental amalgam," Kieburtz tells WebMD. "That was the tenor of the committee -- 'Let's consider vulnerable populations' -- so we said fair enough, these vulnerable populations should at least get a warning."

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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