Federal health officials have issued a new warning about the potential side effects of dental amalgam, indicating the products may release dangerous mercury vapors and gases into the body, putting some patients’ health in jeopardy.
In a Dental Amalgam Safety Communication issued on September 24, the FDA indicates that certain individuals may be at risk from the unstudied side effects after receiving liquid mercury or metal alloy mixtures to fill cavities.
The use of dental amalgam is a common practice in the dentistry field. Liquid mercury, silver, tin, zinc and other metal alloy mixtures are used to fill cavities caused by tooth decay. This form of cavity filling is generally recognized as a safe and affordable method for tooth restoration.
However, the FDA has recently discovered groups of individuals such as pregnant woman or women who are nursing, children under six years of age, people with pre-existing neurological disease such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, people who impaired kidneys, and those with a heightened sensitivity to metals may be at greater risk for potential harmful health effects related to the mercury vapor released.
Researchers found the highest levels of mercury released in the form of vapor are during dental amalgam procedures, whether filling or removing. Following the procedure, levels of mercury vapors may also temporarily increase when chewing, brushing, or when teeth grind over the tooth with the amalgam filling.
The vapor can become absorbed by the body through inhalation to the lungs. While the lungs absorb most of the vapor, they can still allow small amounts to be distributed through the bloodstream, which could then accumulate in tissue of the brain, kidneys, or through the umbilical cord of a pregnant woman.
Mercury is a known toxicant and at high levels can cause serious side effects including mood disorders, sleep disturbance, fatigue, memory loss, tremors, coordination difficulties, visual impairment, hearing loss and kidney damage.
As a result of their findings, the agency has released a series of recommendations to dental health care providers which include discussing alternative cavity filling options such as composite resins and glass ionomer cements. Dental professionals are also being encouraged to avoid placing amalgam in direct contact with other fixed or removable metallic devices in the mouth and to always use mercury hygiene best practices to minimize exposure to the vapor.
The agency announced that, at this time, there is no scientific evidence suggesting the amalgam should be removed from the market, but will continue to review related immunological responses to metal-containing implants and dental amalgam.
A 2016 study published in the medical journal Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety found that those with eight amalgam fillings or more had 150% more mercury in their blood than those who have less or no fillings, and were at higher risk of side effects to the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.