Since ancient times, mercury has been extracted and used due to its chemical properties.
Nevertheless, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP, 2019), the growth of human activities, in the past and today, has increased the total concentration of airborne mercury by approximately 450% above natural levels
Despite this, its use goes on, and this has consequences on our health. Mainly methylmercury, due to its toxic and bioaccumulative mode of action, is capable of damaging brain function, as well as other organs and tissues.
Did you know you could be getting poisoned with mercury? Mercury is on the rise in the world thermometer.
Further, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), mercury is in the list of the 10 most concerning chemicals for public health. The worst is that this heavy metal is not degraded and it accumulates along the food chain.
Ibrahima Sow, an environmental expert in the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) explains that “it is important to understand that mercury is a global pollutant due to its ability to propagate along with great distances”.
“This is the reason why there is mercury everywhere, even in the most remote arctic regions”.
However, what if we told you: you could have it in the black amalgams of your mouth? Did you know that black amalgams contain 50% of mercury? Did you know it has a toxic effect on the human body, even in minimal quantities?
In 1816, Auguste Taveau (French dentist) developed the First amalgam from Silver coins and mercury.
“By the end of the XVII century, amalgam started to be used to repair teeth due to its low cost
Since around 3000 b.C., odontology began as the Egyptians grafted jewels into their teeth.
A 150 years after being introduced, the widespread usage of mercury in odontology, and the safety of dental amalgams, is questioned.
Since 1920, in Germany, the safety of this odonatological technique was put into question, as it was associated with the release of mercury vapor into the oral cavity, and therefore affecting the health of the patient
As time passed, and with more research, the report from the World Health Organization in 2005 warned about mercury.
“It can cause harmful effects on the nervous, digestive, respiratory, immune, and renal systems, also causing lung damage. Adverse effects on health due to exposure to mercury can include: tremors, seeing and hearing problems, paralysis, insomnia, emotional instability, fetal development deficit, attention deficit, and developmental delays during childhood.
As a response, the Minamata Convention, with the participation of 97 countries, has as aim the protection of human health and the environment from the emissions and anthropogenic mercury release.
It is centered in minimizing the mercury released as a consequence of human activity.
For this goal, the Convention encompasses and sets obligations regarding the metal’s life cycle. “The Minamata Convention is an important step, now we need to ratify and execute it. It is the only way to reduce the use of mercury”, explains Ibrahima Sow
Therefore, this convention was used as the basis for others, like the Basel, Stockholm, and Rotterdam conventions. The goal is to protect human and environmental health, but with a specific differentiation of the rulings.
And what happens regarding dental amalgams? On the 28th of January of 2005, the European Union established a Community Strategy concerning mercury, with 6 objectives and specific actions
The objectives are grounded on reducing emissions, restricting the supply and demand, surpluses and reservoirs of mercury, protecting from mercury exposition, improving comprehension of the problem, and supporting and encouraging international initiatives.
Among the supply and demand reduction, the Directive 76/69/CEE was modified, raising dental amalgams in the list of impacts of usages of mercury. In this directive, their substitution is proposed, respecting the sanitary products and the environment.
Among research and regulations, the WHO suggests that mercury “could not have a threshold under which there are no adverse effects”.
Putting Dental Fillings Safety Into Question: Myths and Truths
Both in the past and now, elemental mercury is used for dental amalgams.
Its usage has been widely debated concerning its safety on the environment and our health.
Even, in 2003, a Convention was approved to reduce its detrimental effects, just as in amalgams.
In comparison with antiquity, modern odontology has at its disposal techniques and solutions which are less invasive for the dental structure and us.
“My dentist says mercury fillings are safe”. Myth.
Mercury dental amalgams still have a widespread use in the European Union, nevertheless, their safety is questioned, and they have even been forbidden in some countries.
In June 2018, its usage is prohibited on vulnerable populations, aiming for a complete stop of its use.
Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, director of the “Zero Mercury Campaign”, states that the “European Commission and the Member States of the EU must ensure that odontologists enforce the ban immediately and verify if the use of exemptions is really necessary. EU authorities must ensure that citizens are aware of these dispositions.
The European Commission is focused on the visibility of a long-term gradual elimination, preferably by 2030, taking into account national plans.
Have you seen the news about French dentists? Doctors and patients are more conscious and critical about mercury.
Dr. Michèle Panetier, a dentist in Paris, comments she stopped using amalgams fifteen years ago, and she preemptively prefers “not to use them on her patients”.
Not only France, other countries like Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, or Norway have but eliminated the use of mercury fillings on people younger than 15, lactating, or pregnant women. Why not the rest?
Mercury in amalgam fillings is safe because it is combined with other materials and cannot be released. Myth.
According to data from the Richardson, et.al. (2011) research, it was observed that average tooth surfaces with amalgams go up to 0.5-1 μg/day/tooth, depending on age and other factors. These are estimations higher than those from Health Canada, which claims the value is around 0.2-0.4 μg /day.
As reported by scientific evidence, dental amalgams contain mercury and methylmercury, which release a low amount of mercury as vapor.
Despite inconclusive or contradictory results, it is observed that on long periods, high quantities can generate adverse effects.
If mercury fillings were not safe, everyone who has them would be intoxicated. Myth
Dental amalgams containing mercury are a controversial topic worldwide. Studies show vulnerable people possess mercury in their urine, and it was correlated to fillings and sometime after receiving them.
Also, Wael L Mortada, et. al., (2002) observed the possible kidney toxicity of mercury from fillings on men and women.
In another study, it was already observed that fillings that were harmful on health did not differ on the number of amalgam fillings, surfaces, or mercury levels in the organism.
This all requires more studies and research in the dental area since there is controversy regarding chronic toxicity and high levels in the organism.
What we know is that the mercury exposition levels can be personal and affect some or other people.
Since mercury amalgams are toxic, mine can be completely removed from my teeth. Myth.
In 2009, the WHO concluded that a “global ban on the short term would be a problem for public health and the dental health sector, instead the aim should be to gradually eliminate its use, promoting prevention and the use of alternative materials, research and development of cost-effective alternatives, Education of odontology professionals, and a sensibilization of the population”.
It is reasonable that, when manipulating amalgams, both the dental professional and the patient suffer a risk to their health, and could be exposed to a higher mercury level.
The use of amalgams, further from the controversial topic, entails an unmovable truth; it contains 50% of mercury, which is historically proven to be toxic and therefore harmful to human health.
It is a “old school” method, which poses great risks to human beings; therefore America Dental is a pioneer in the Central American region in the removal and change of amalgams for materials, which are bio-compatible with human life and the environment.