A year after bowing to pressure from health advocates and issuing a warning on mercury in dental fillings, the Food and Drug Administration has deemed the presence of this known neurotoxin safe in dental fillings (a.k.a. "amalgams" -- the silvery drips dentists use to fill our cavities). They're safe for adults, safe for young children and safe for pregnant women, according to the new FDA ruling.
The new ruling substantially downplays the warning the FDA issued in June 2008: "Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses," the agency said at the time. The Philadelphia Inquirer report went so far as to call the new ruling "somewhat surprising."
Despite labeling mercury fillings a "moderate" risk (a two on a scale of three), the FDA now only warns that mercury in fillings may be risky for people with mercury allergies: "While elemental mercury has been associated with adverse health effects at high exposures, the levels released by dental amalgam fillings are not high enough to cause harm in patients," the FDA press release states. Dentists and their co-workers are also urged to properly ventilate the office to avoid exposing themselves (and presumably their patients) to mercury vapor.
While we'd all like to trust the FDA decision -- which took six years and included a review of 200 scientific studies, other FDA rulings have been highly criticized by press and advocacy group investigations that found the FDA relied on industry studies and was unduly influenced by the concerns of businesses, rather than public health. The Consumers for Dental Choice, a group advocating for restrictions on the use of mercury in dental fillings, has raised that concern in this case, but it has so far presented no evidence.
The danger of mercury has long been known, and government controls on smokestack pollution are designed to limit the fallout of mercury in the environment, so as to lessen contamination of fish. Eating fish contaminated with mercury is the most common way for people to be exposed, and pregnant women, nursing mothers and children have been warned in recent years to be wary of how much and which fish they eat.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin. In its toxic form it can interrupt the normal development of the brain, causing permanent damage, like lowered IQ, and other developmental problems.
Click here for the American Dental Association's recommended 5 questions to ask before getting dental work. (The ADA believes mercury in fillings pose no health risk, but it is concerned about lead in dental fixtures.)
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.