Amalgam fillings: a source of chronic mercury poisoning

In the previous newsletter, I introduced the topic of mercury’s effect on nutrients in the body. This issue in the ongoing mercury series takes a close look at amalgam fillings. In 2015, the FDA reiterated the safety of dental amalgam. Far from finding this reassuring, I find this highly disturbing. Read on to find out why.

What is dental amalgam?

Amalgam fillings are a source of chronic mercury exposure.

Amalgam fillings are a source of chronic mercury exposure.

Dental amalgam, the material that has long been used in “silver fillings,” is about 50% mercury, constituting an ongoing toxic exposure for those who have such fillings. The World Health Organization’s report on the topic estimates people with amalgams absorb 1–22 micrograms of mercury each day. Various factors can considerably increase the exposure levels, which can reach an upper range of about 100 micrograms per day in people who chew gum and/or grind their teeth, as the WHO report linked above notes. The safe reference dose set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is 0.1 microgram of methylmercury (a similar form of mercury present in fish) per kilogram of body weight per day for ongoing exposure (about 20 micrograms per day for an adult weighing 135 lbs). Thus, most people with amalgam fillings are very either close to or over the daily limits for mercury exposure, without counting mercury from other sources.

Mercury from amalgam fillings passes through the placenta and accumulates in the developing fetus. This early mercury exposure disrupts the development of the brain and nervous system. The damage continues after birth, as mercury passes through breast milk. In my second pregnancy, I had 12 amalgam fillings, chewed gum on a regular basis and ground my teeth in my sleep. My pregnancy lasted 42 weeks and I nursed my child for 18 months. So over this span of time, my child and I were collectively exposed to 83,400 micrograms (83.4 milligrams) of mercury just from my fillings. So what? – you may ask – after all, milligrams are a small unit of measurement, right? The Environmental Protection Agency has not set a safe reference dose for elemental mercury, but it cautions about the health hazards of chronic or acute exposure here. The safe reference dose set by the EPA of 0.1 microgram of methylmercury (the form present in fish) per kilogram of body weight per day for chronic exposure is equivalent to about 0.3 micrograms per day for a newborn and .6 micrograms per day for a 6-month old baby. So 100 micrograms per day is indeed a large exposure.

As if the cumulative effects of ongoing amalgam exposure were not enough, unsafe amalgam removal can cause acute exposures to mercury vapor. If you would like to remove your amalgam fillings, I recommend finding a dentist trained through the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT). This professional dental organization has developed a protocol that minimizes mercury exposure during amalgam removal. Make sure you educate yourself very well on adequate preparation for amalgam removal and/or work with a reputable practitioner who is very knowledgeable and experienced regarding mercury’s effects on health. As eager as you may be to get the stuff out of your mouth, do your homework before making such a big decision!

Time amalgam removal so as to avoid overlapping with preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. If you are a woman with amalgam fillings and are currently ready to start a family right away, wait until you are done breastfeeding before removing them, and make sure you read my upcoming newsletter on mercury’s effect on fetal and child development.

If you have amalgams, including invisible amalgam fillings beneath crowns, you should take special precautions to prevent increased offgassing of mercury vapor. Don’t chew gum, and do whatever you can to prevent grinding your teeth. Talk to your dentist about using a night guard if you grind your teeth at night. Additionally, you should carefully avoid two common supplement ingredients: alpha lipoic acid and chlorella. Alpha lipoic acid in particular is often used in anti-oxidant and blood-sugar regulation products (even in Emergen-C®), and chlorella is often recommended by well-meaning professionals and laypersons as a safe supplement for people with all kinds of health problems, including mercury exposure. Along the same lines, avoid cilantro leaf as anything but the occasional garnish on a special dish. Do not give in to the trend of using cilantro supplements or making cilantro-heavy soups and smoothies. Unfortunately, these substances have the unwanted effect of stirring up mercury from amalgam fillings as well as stored mercury in cells and tissues, including the brain, and exposing the affected person to this highly toxic metal.

The dentist who placed my amalgam fillings when I was a young adult never warned me that there was mercury in them or that they might be a problem for my health or that of my future children. None of the doctors I went to for the alarming symptoms I experienced in the years when I had this high constant source of mercury exposure once asked me about my dental history. And when I expressed concerns about physical and behavioral symptoms affecting my child, including a constant hand tremor (a classical symptom of mercury poisoning in the medical textbooks), no doctor ever asked about mercury exposure. It was only thirteen years and 11 amalgam removals later that a good friend of mine, himself active in the mercury-poisoned community, recognized symptoms of mercury toxicity as an issue in my family and recommended testing for us that the reality really set in.

If you would like to learn more about the health effects of amalgam and what to do about it, I highly recommend Andrew Hall Cutler’s book Amalgam Illness: Diagnosis and Treatment.

I would like to acknowledge Kris Homme and Dev Rana, who have directly and indirectly contributed sources and materials that have helped me write this post, as well as the writings of Andrew Cutler on the effects of mercury on the human body.

The next newsletter will focus in depth on the effects of mercury on fetal and early childhood development, and there is plenty more information coming in the future newsletters on mercury, so make sure you subscribe to the newsletter if you haven’t done so already. In the meantime, feel free to reach out if you have any questions.


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