Q: Are "silver fillings" the same as mercury amalgam?
A: Yes, mercury amalgam typically comprises about 50% of what is called a silver filling. The other half consists of a mixture of silver, tin, copper, and other constituents.
Q: Isn't mercury amalgam considered safe for use by the vast majority of dentists in Canada?
A: Where I come from, Europe, the use of mercury amalgam is generally discouraged, and even banned in certain countries, including Sweden and Denmark.
Although Health Canada does not consider a total ban on amalgam use justified, they do acknowledge that mercury leaches out from amalgam fillings and represents the single largest source of mercury exposure for average Canadians.
Moreover they advise to reduce human exposure to heavy metals in our environment, especially to children, pregnant women, and those with impaired kidney function.
Most of my patients who opt to remove their amalgam fillings do so because they are already suffering from possible adverse effects of mercury in their bodies; others simply choose to minimize the potential for such adverse effects in the future, preferring to err on the side of caution.
Q: What are some of the possible adverse effects or symptoms of toxic mercury in the body?
There are two kinds of mercury toxicity: acute and chronic. Acute mercury poisoning occurs from a single large exposure, and has easily identified signs and symptoms, depending on the form of mercury.
Chronic mercury poisoning is more typically associated with amalgam fillings and results from the extended exposure to minute doses. Chronic mercury exposure can be more difficult to recognize due to its gradual impact, although it can lead to severe long-term health effects in some people, depending on that person's sensitivity and level of exposure.
Mercury is a neurotoxin and exhibits neurological effects and psychiatric symptoms, including:
- Erthism (exaggerated response to stimuli)
- Excessive shyness
- Emotional instability
- Chorea (irregular, spasmdic, involuntary movements)
- Ataxia (uncoordinated muscular movements)
- Convulsions or Seizures
- Mental retardation
Other symptoms include:
- Vasomotor symptoms such as excessive perspiration, uncontrollable blushing, and fine trembling of fingers or facial muscles
- Oral inflammation
- Cerebral palsy
- Kidney toxicity
- Weight loss
- Chronic Fatigue
- Muscle weakness
Q: I don't feel that I have any of the symptoms of mercury poisoning; why should I consider replacing my amalgam fillings?
Just like the proverbial frog in the pot of hot water, we may not notice the gradual decline of our neurolgical functions, until the mercury toxin is removed from our body.
Aside from the health concerns, replacing amalgam fillings should be considered for other reasons including the limited life expectancy of amalgam fillings of 7 to 10 years, as well as the obvious cosmetic benefits of using 'white' fillings.
Q: What are some of the alternatives to amalgam fillings?
In my practice we use primarily a white resin for smaller cavities or a stronger porcelain material for the molars. More costly, but durable gold fillings are also an option.