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Are Millions of Americans Being Poisoned by Their Own Dental Fillings?

A controversial theory linking amalgam fillings and mercury poisoning is starting to gain scientific acceptance.
 
 
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Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Jessica Davis; Public domain / Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

Kris Homme, a retired engineer, did not know what was happening to her. At age 33, she was diagnosed with macular degeneration — a disease that usually does not appear until old age. Not one to give up, she somehow managed to complete two graduate degrees with impaired vision. Then, in her 40s, she developed chronic fatigue and multiple chemical sensitivities.

"I was pretty much housebound for a couple years,” she recalls. “I just didn't have the strength to leave the house by myself. I was able to keep my house fragrance-free but I had trouble being in a crowd, like on a bus or in an audience where you're sitting next to people because so many people wear fragrances. Or walking on the streets, the car exhaust would be overpowering."

A friend suggested her problem might be mercury exposure from her dental fillings, but she dismissed the idea. After all, her neurologist had already tested her blood for mercury and did not find anything to worry about.

Homme had a mouth full of amalgam fillings, each of which is 50 percent mercury. The mercury in them was long thought to be inert, but scientists later discovered that some of the mercury is released as vapor and absorbed into the body. Still, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Dental Association maintained they were perfectly safe.

As an engineer, Homme cannot be easily fooled. Even when telling her own story, she repeatedly questions why anyone would want to hear one story when it cannot constitute proof of anything. Knowledge and facts come from carefully controlled, randomized, statistically significant scientific studies, not anecdotes and stories.

The theory that amalgam fillings caused mercury poisoning “all sounded so flaky,” she remembers. “The anti-mercury movement has a lot of unfortunate bedfellows so I dismissed the argument.”

What’s more, she had a degree in Environmental Health Sciences from UC Berkeley. “I just thought that if that was an issue it would have been covered in my prestigious degree program.”

Finally, her friend gave her a book to read, Amalgam Illness, Diagnosis, and Treatment by Andrew Hall Cutler. “I stayed up late, reading and crying. All my symptoms fit and all the theory fit, the theory about how it's not going to show up in a blood test because you're retaining it, you're not excreting it. My whole world turned upside down when I realized my doctors and dentists were so wrong and my degree program was so inadequate and it was like, if I can't believe any of that, what is true? Who can I believe?”

Today Homme is one of several plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the FDA, demanding it respond to several petitions that ask it to ban — or at least seriously restrict — the use of amalgam fillings. Other plaintiffs include the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, Moms Against Mercury, and the Cooperative Food Empowerment Directive (CoFED), as well as several individuals. She’s also published a peer-reviewed paper summarizing new studies demonstrating the harm of amalgam fillings.

The FDA’s strongest evidence of the safety of amalgam fillings are two studies published in 2006 called the "Children’s Amalgam Trials." One was conducted in New England, the other in Portugal. In them, hundreds of healthy children with low levels of mercury and lead, plenty of unfilled cavities and no previous amalgam fillings were divided into two groups. One group received amalgam fillings, and the other received composite fillings. The children were then monitored over a period of years for changes in mercury levels, IQ, memory and several other neurological tests. They also tracked major health problems in the children over the course of the study.