Mercury Madness

Here's the piece, running on the cover of the 5 Dec. Springfield & Valley Advocate. sub: Scientists question the safety of "silver" dental fillings; dental organizations question the scientific findings -- where are the answers?abstract: ______________________________________________Mercury is one of the most toxic substances on the planet. Ingesting a drop of it will get you a trip to the emergency room. A thimble-full will kill. A half-gram of mercury in a 10-acre lake is enough to warrant a fish advisory. In 1994, Minnesota banned running shoes with lights in their heels because the shoes contained a half-gram of mercury, and that was deemed too hazardous to consumers.The average "silver" dental filling contains a half-gram of mercury.Too hazardous for footwear or a 10-acre lake yet safe enough to be implanted in human mouths? It's quite a paradox -- one that has researchers around the world at loggerheads with dental trade organizations like the American Dental Association. The latter claims researchers are needlessly scaring patients with unfounded speculations, while the former assert that silver amalgam fillings are responsible for millions of cases of chronic, long-term mercury poisoning that have been misdiagnosed as anything from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to Alzheimer's Disease to Multiple Sclerosis to senility.This is not a new controversy. Yet with an ever- accumulating baseline of scientific studies that continue to converge on the conclusion that the mercury in amalgams is hazardous to the public health, where are the media and where is the government? If a handful of important studies connecting asbestos to lung cancer were sufficient to remove it from the market, why don't the American regulatory agencies governing amalgams act with similar resolve?The answer, not surprisingly, may have more to do with politics and money than with science and the public interest.Silver amalgam fillings were pioneered in the early 19th century. To make the first amalgam, a British chemist in 1812 mixed coin shavings with mercury (added so the filling would harden without shrinking) for a "silver paste" he used in tooth restoration. It was a revolutionary innovation, since gold was previously the only metal that was tough and durable enough for the job but could still be installed without harming the patient. However, gold was, as it is today, a prohibitively expensive metal, beyond the budgets of most cavity-getters. Silver and mercury, on the other hand, are cheap. And that economic edge meant modern mouths could be fitted with affordable metal implants whenever tooth decay struck.Almost from the beginning, though, some dentists began advocating a ban on amalgams, for fear of inadvertently poisoning their patients. Mercury has been known as a deadly poison for millennia. And during the 19th century, symptoms of mercury poisoning were in abundance for those who cared to look. Hatters, for instance, regularly used mercury on hat felt to make the material more pliable. In the process, many hatters inhaled toxic levels of mercury vapor and developed extreme cases of mercury-induced dementia. Lewis Carroll's "Mad Hatter" from Alice's Adventures In Wonderland offers a comic glimpse at these mercury victims from another time.But the presence of a known poison in tooth restorative material wasn't enough to sway popular opinion away from amalgams. By the mid-19th century, most of the previously mercury-free dentists had either left the business or opted for the expanded customer base that amalgams provided.In the ensuing century and a half, the mercury has continued to flow, to the point that some three-quarters of the industrialized world are now estimated to have at least one silver-mercury amalgam filling in their mouths.That fact alone is manna to the ADA. According to a 1990 Journal of the American Dental Association, "The strongest and most convincing support we have for the safety of dental amalgam is the fact that each year more than 100 million amalgam fillings are placed in the United States. And since amalgam has been used for more than 150 years, literally billions of amalgam fillings have been successfully used to restore decayed teeth."Perhaps from a public relations standpoint, the ADA's response was a clever move. But in the words of Dr. Michael Ziff, executive director of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, "The ADA's position is not scientific; it's not analytical; it's not even ethical." Or as Dr. Fritz Lorscheider of the University of Calgary Medical School says, "The ADA is on thin ice, because they're trying to counter medical research evidence with dental opinion."What is the medical research evidence?For starters, it has been well established scientifically for more than a decade that mercury does not remain inert and "locked-in" to the filling, as the ADA and amalgam proponents had been claiming for over a century. (The ADA has since backed off that claim. Now it says that amalgams release a measurable but inconsequential amount of mercury.)The average individual with amalgam fillings is now estimated to breathe in anywhere from 1 to 29 micrograms of mercury per day. Some individuals breathe in even more -- approaching 100 micrograms per day -- due to the number of fillings, gum chewing, chronic tooth grinding during sleep, food chewing patterns, food acidity and other factors.As a comparison, in 1994 the U.S. Public Health Service deemed 0.28 micrograms of mercury vapor per day as the Minimal Risk Level -- or the amount above which one risks harm from mercury vapor. But even according to pro- amalgamists, who have conceded that people with amalgams typically breathe in between one and three micrograms of mercury a day, people with amalgams may be risking long- term health problems. OSHA has shut down factories for less.Autopsy studies in Sweden, Germany and the U.S. have also established that people with amalgams have significantly more mercury in their brains and kidneys than those without, and the mercury concentration increases with the number of amalgams. Furthermore, the World Health Organization has stated that amalgam fillings constitute the majority of mercury exposure for people with amalgams -- more than every other mercury source combined. This finding has been independently verified by the national insurance program Health Canada and by the National Institutes of Dental Research.And still the ADA remains steadfast -- a flabbergasting fact to some medical researchers. "What's puzzling is their adamant stance in going to the wall even when the medical evidence is so overwhelming," said Lorscheider.Or in Ziff's words, "Mercury has been demonstrated as one possible cause of Alzheimer's Disease, and the World Health Organization says that people with amalgams get more mercury from their fillings than from all other sources combined. Two plus two equals what? According to the ADA, it equals zero."However slow their progress in the United States, the anti-amalgamists have had more success in Canada and Western Europe. Germany and Austria, for instance, both have restricted the use of amalgams in children, women of childbearing age and patients with kidney problems. In addition, the German company Degussa, one of the world's leading manufacturers of dental fillings, has dropped its amalgam line entirely, and the Austrian government has set a goal of banning all amalgams by the year 2000.Austria won't be the first, either. Sweden has already banned the filling for children. As of next month, Sweden will be the first country in the world to ban silver-mercury amalgam fillings outright.And Canada may not be far behind, although the Canadian Dental Association and other pro-amalgam forces haven't given up the fort yet.Less than a year ago, Health Canada held a stakeholders' meeting that put the issue to a vote. The amalgamists won. The following day, though, the Montreal Gazette quoted a less-than-triumphant leader of the pro-amalgam faction: "The odds are good that the anti-amalgamists will reign triumphant over the traditionalists," he said. "Maybe you shouldn't write this, but I think it's a war we're going to lose pretty soon. It's political pressure. By telling and telling about it, by reading it in the newspapers, I think the momentum is there for us to lose that war and go on to other materials."In the United States, the war has to date been fought with few positive results. Newsweek ran an article on the subject in October of 1990 and 60 Minutes followed Newsweek's lead in December. The mainstream American media have since been grossly silent on amalgams and mercury toxicity. Some Americans, though, haven't had time to wait for the media to come around.Dr. Lydia Bronte -- a New York-based author and expert on aging -- had severe, chronic allergies and chronic pain from age 5, when she first had amalgam fillings put in her mouth, to several years ago, when they were taken out.When she was working on her book The Longevity Factor, her health deteriorated to the point that she was sleeping 20 hours a day and in increasing amounts of pain. She consulted more doctors than she can now remember, and as she recalled, "The only potential cause I hadn't eliminated was mercury poisoning. The reason I hadn't tested for that previously -- even though my cousin who was a nurse had told me about it -- was I thought it was nonsense. I even told her she should see a shrink. I had to call her later and apologize."Upon looking into the issue on her own, she realized that not only was there mercury in her mouth but there was enough for her to be considered a walking toxic waste site. As she now recalls, "If I had taken those 17 fillings and set them down on my living room floor, there would be enough mercury in my living room that the EPA could quarantine my apartment. Yet it was still considered safe enough to be in my mouth."She decided to have her 17 amalgams replaced. The first two were, to put it mildly, the roughest: "I had my first two large silver fillings removed without really knowing that there were safety precautions that should be taken," she said. "And neither my doctor nor my dentist knew it. The next morning I woke up with a sound like a jackhammer coming out of my chest, every time I breathed. I had inhaled so much mercury from the drilling, that I had lung damage." (Indeed, since a high-speed dental drill vaporizes most of the mercury in a filling, a nose mask and a rubber dam on the patient's mouth are mandatory components of any safe filling removal.)She is now back to what she calls "98 percent of where I should be, but 98 percent is something I can live with."In 1988 Kip Sullivan, a 41-year-old Minnesota research director for a statewide progressive political organization, began suffering from intestinal cramping and chronic diarrhea. After a few years of enduring those symptoms, his situation deteriorated. The later stages of his condition involved fatigue, night sweats, nausea, stiffness, dry skin, pressure behind the eyes and memory loss. He was eventually diagnosed with colitis, an intestinal syndrome in which, as Sullivan puts it, "I was bleeding my guts away."Sullivan saw the amalgam episode of 60 Minutes, which included interviews with a half-dozen people who had all experienced chronic, degenerative conditions that were eliminated by the removal of their mercury fillings. He researched the evidence on his own, reaching the conclusion that amalgams may be the cause of his troubles. "I had my 14 fillings out between April and May of 1991," he recalls. "By July, my symptoms were gone."Of course, case studies are often dismissed as merely anecdotal evidence. Yet this evidence is only the beginning of the case against amalgams. In fact, the anecdotes are consistent with the scientific evidence -- mercury does leave the amalgam and enter the body in significant amounts; people with amalgams have substantially more mercury in their brains and kidneys than those without amalgams; and mercury is one of the most potent poisons on the planet, with proven links to leading to a host of diseases and conditions from the above symptoms to dementia to neurological damage.Even if there were no scientific studies to back up the claims, how many reports would need to be compiled to convince dentists that there's a considerable number of patients who do experience adverse effects from their amalgam fillings? Sullivan notes, "I personally know 50 people who have had their amalgams out and their recovery was modest to miraculous."Fifty isn't the half of it, either.In 1993, the dental amalgam newsletter Bio-Probe compiled the reports of 1,569 patients from the United States, Sweden, Denmark and Canada whose amalgams had been removed. Of the 231 people with gastrointestinal problems, 83 percent reported anything from an improvement to a cure after their fillings were removed. Of the 159 with an irregular heartbeat, 87 percent reported improvement to cure after filling removal. And 94 percent of those with gum problems, and 86 percent of chronic fatigue patients, and 76 percent of those with Multiple Sclerosis, and 83 percent of those with muscle tremors... and so on.While Bio-Probe makes no claims at being a peer- reviewed scientific journal, its results offer strong clinical evidence that the removal of mercury amalgams appears to aleviate long-term chronic health problems for many people. (Preliminary results from an ongoing study of more than 2,000 amalgam removals in Marburg, Germany have corroborated Bio-Probe's findings.)Yet the ADA does not budge. In the Journal of the American Dental Association, which, like Bio-Probe, is also not peer-reviewed, the ADA states that "no evidence exists that associates this minute amount of mercury vapor [given off by amalgams] to any toxic effects." The ADA's position paper on amalgams (available on the worldwide web at claims dental amalgam has an "indisputable safety record and has been extensively reviewed," citing reports from the FDA, National Institutes of Health Technology Assessment Conference and the National Institutes of Dental Research. Furthermore, the ADA notes, a 1991 issue of Consumer Reports investigated pro- and anti-amalgam claims and concluded "given their solid track record ... amalgam fillings are still your best bet."Consumer Reports should tell that to researchers at the University of Kentucky Medical School. A team of scientists led by Dr. Boyd Haley recently completed a study exposing six laboratory rats to a typical intake of amalgam mercury vapor, diluted to account for the size difference between rats and humans. To the researchers' astonishment, every rat developed symptoms and brain tissue damage indistinguishable from that of Alzheimer's Disease patients. The researchers then repeated their experiment only to find the same results. While the jury is still out for human patients, the leader of the research team had seen enough. Dr. Bronte's new book The Mercury in Your Mouth: The Truth About "Silver" Dental Fillings quotes Dr. Haley's response to the group's findings. "The results of this experiment are terrifying," he said. "I'm getting the rest of my fillings taken out right now, and I've asked my wife to have hers replaced too."A second University of Kentucky research team discovered in an autopsy study that humans who die of Alzheimer's have twice as much mercury in their brains as people who died of other causes at similar ages.And the preliminary medical evidence surrounding mercury toxicity and Multiple Sclerosis and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease) is, at the least, revealing. No research team has hazarded any definitive conclusions, but scientists have found telling leads. (One medical researcher at the University of Colorado, for instance, has published more than 20 research articles showing a link between mercury toxicity and MS and ALS.) In short, mercury amalgams may well exacerbate these deadly disorders, whether or not science can establish any causal relationships.If even a single link could definitively be found between one of these diseases and mercury amalgams, the legal ramifications would be staggering. In 1985 -- before some of the most important papers on the subject were written -- the San Francisco Bar Association concluded that the ensuing mass litigation could be unprecedented in the history of toxic tort cases if no legal amnesty were awarded to manufacturers, dentists, the ADA, etc.The lawyers concluded, "The scientific and medical evidence available even now suggest that the mercury amalgam issue is an internal Love Canal waiting to be exposed."For more information on amalgams and mercury-free dentists, contact Bio-Probe at (407) 290-9670, the Dental Amalgam Mercury Syndrome society at (505) 888-0111 or Quicksilver Press at (888) 99-MERCURY.


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