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This blog about dental fillings is not intended to be controversial. Neither is it intended to cover both sides of the argument. I am relating a fascinating conversation that challenged my preconceived ideas about dental fillings.
Some months ago I noticed that I could feel, with the tip of my tongue, something sharp on one of my back molars. The tooth didn’t hurt, so I waited until my next regular dentist appointment. The dentist told me that I had chipped a tiny piece off of one of my silver fillings. “I guess that means you’ll be replacing it with one of the new safer fillings,” I said. I was not prepared for the vehemence on his reply. For the next 30 minutes, as he worked in my mouth, he gave me the other side of the story -the side you don’t get from the internet. When he finished with me and started work on DD, I got out a notebook, and made him go through it all over again so I could take notes.
I’m glad that I didn’t have to make any decisions that day. The dentist removed the sharp piece that I could feel with my tongue, and assured me that the filling itself was still well seated and didn’t need replacement.
I think the best decision is for parents to make sure their children eat healthy low sugar foods so they won’t get cavities. Then they won’t have to make difficult decisions about fillings at all. The rest of this blog is what my dentist said to me that day.
“They can’t prove silver fillings are harming you with real science. If they could, there would be ten lawyers in my waiting room right now, because there are a lot more lawyers than dentists.
“If you compare the mercury that gets into your body from fillings to the amount in foods you eat every day, you would find that there is more available mercury in a can of tuna fish. Scientists agree that silver dental fillings leach mercury into the mouth. But hundreds of studies show that the exposure is from 1-3 micrograms per day. One can of albacore tuna contains 52.7 micrograms. Chunk light tuna contains 27.2 micrograms.
(Suzanne notes: The EPA safe level is .1 microgram per kilogram of body weight per day. The Food and Drug Administration reference dose is 0.4 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day. The World Health Organization set the level of mercury consumption considered safe at 1.5 micrograms per kilogram of body weight per day. For my weight my safe level would be EPA - 5.76 micrograms per day; FDA – 23.04 and WHO – 86.42. Back to my dentist’s comments)
“If you look at the mercury that gets into the environment if you break one of those new light bulbs, you are talking about much more serious exposure. Read the precautions on how you are supposed to clean up your house if one of those spiraling bulbs made with mercury vapor drops and breaks.
“I’ve been in practice for 30 years. I’d say that 2% to 5% of my time is spent replacing work that has already been done. I can tell you that silver lasts longer plastic. I have a patient who is 80-years old. She got four silver filling when she was10 years old. They are still in good shape. A silver filling doesn’t fail. Sometimes the tooth around it fails, but that’s rare. Sometimes they break if they are too big and should have been crowns. Plastic however needs to be replaced after 10 - 15 years.
“A silver filling costs about $100. Plastics; $130. Insurance allows both. A dentist makes a lot more money on plastic. They can charge more when they put them in, and in a few years they get to charge again to replace them. Plastic may be the best esthetic choice, but it’s not the best choice for safety or money.
“Plastic is very technique sensitive. The guy who graduates last at dental school can put in a silver filling that will last long time. Not so with plastic. It has to be done right or it will fail even sooner.
“Why would I want to harm my patients? I could make more money with plastic. It’s not what goes in your mouth that hurts the environment. It’s what goes down the drain in industrial usage.
“There was a TV reporter who got all worried about her 12 silver fillings. She decided to have them all replaced with plastic, and she did a report on the experience. After it was over, she talked on camera about how much better she felt. The irony is that the greatest exposure to mercury is when the filling is being put in taken out. When it’s just in your mouth, there much less mercury exposure than you get from food. Baby boomers who got one to two cavities per year filled when they were growing up received a small exposure each time. However, when they took out her twelve fillings in one day she got a large exposure.
The dentist has much more exposure than any one patient. I’m standing here breathing vapor. Yet statistically dentists have lower rate of MS than general population. They keep trying to prove that silver fillings are dangerous, but the proof just is not there
I went to a continuing education seminar at the San Antonio Dental School. One of the speakers was promoting tooth colored fillings hoping to get the school to move in that direction. During the question and answer session, I said I wanted to ask a question about safety. He thought I meant the safety of silver fillings and interrupted my question to say that there was lots of research that proved silver was safe. He was not promoting his product by questioning the safety of silver. I said that he had misunderstood my question. I meant had there been adequate studies on the safety of plastic fillings. He looked surprised, then admitted that he had not seen any research at all. As far as he knew, plastic fillings had not been studied for safety."
The mercury in a can of tuna goes through the GI tract, and a good portion of it is never absorbed, but is simply pooped out. The mercury in dental fillings, however, is right in the mouth. If it dissolves into saliva or air, it could be absorbed through the mucus membranes of the mouth and go directly into the blood stream. I may even get absorbed right into the brain.
I don't know for a fact that this happens- but theoretically it could. I read online that this COULD happen, but I haven't seen any studies that prove it one way or the other. Dentists, though they work with large quantities of amalgram filling materials, dont' have the same kind of exposure: they touch it with gloved fingers while wearing masks.
I share your concerns about the safety of plastic fillings, but I'm still not convinced that the amalgram fillings are as safe as your dentist is claiming. At least with plastic fillings, you have the option of replacing them in 10-15 years with something proven safer with the newer research we'll have by then.
As I said in the blog, I'm not taking a position for or against silver fillings. I had read scary stuff on the internet like what you are quoting. This was the first time I had heard the other side of the story.
Mercury in tuna is absorbed in the system and causes brain damage particularly in children who eat a lot of it. That is well documented. Every time I eat tuna, I add cilantro. That is supposed to bond with the mercury. Mercury in food does NOT just "go through the GI tract".
A lot of people on the Forum - myself included - are trying to get plastics out of our lives. We're quoting websites about how plastics leach into food at higher temperatures (think about plastic fillings in your mouth 24 hours a day at 98.6 degrees). It was astounding to me that a sales rep for plastic fillings couldn't quote even one safety study.
The cost for removing fillings is huge. My dentist charges $130 for the new plastic filling. Plus you have to add the cost of removing the old filling. He told me it would be more than $1000 to redo my 6-7 fillings every 10-15 years.
You are incorrect about the dentist's exposure. The vapor is much more dangerous than the mercury in either a filling or in fish. That is why he said exposure when the fillings are removed is more dangerous than leaving them where they are.
It's a difficult issue. If I had a new cavity, I might choose plastic. But my focus is on preventive dentistry, so hopefully I won't have to make that decision at all. I'm really glad that because of my health food fanaticism neither of my children have fillings of any kind.
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