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Mercury Amalgam Toxicity 'Your next visit to the dentist may not be as innocent as you think'
[By Jim O'Brien in LE Magazine May 2001. Thanks to Kathryn Hudson.]
[This posting is part of an ongoing series of introductory reports on
current topics related to autism. For a complete list of the "A Look At..."
articles, go to:
Charles Williamson, M.D., co-director of the Toxic Studies Institute
in Boca Raton, Florida and colleague, Jordan Davis, M.D., sat down with Life
Extension magazine for an in-depth interview on the problem of mercury
toxicity caused by dental fillings. Unlike past treatments of this subject,
the two physicians spoke from a clinical, medical and scientific-not a
The issue of mercury toxicity is a delicate one. For decades, most
people have seen a visit to the dentist and subsequent cavity filling as a
necessary and regular procedure. Side effects have not routinely been
brought to light, so few have challenged the status quo. Evidence suggests,
however, that such an apparently harmless procedure can have detrimental
Charles Williamson, M.D., co-director of the Toxic Studies Institute
in Boca Raton, Florida, takes the matter very seriously. "Once mothers
realize the fillings in their teeth damage the development of their babies'
brains while they're in the womb, and once these women understand this
damage can result in low IQ, learning and behavioral problems after birth,
then we'll see a public outcry against the use of mercury amalgam.
"I envision something along the lines of the backlash against tobacco,
or drunk driving. Imagine a mercury amalgam protest group patterned after
M.A.D.D.-Mothers Against Drunk Driving. When that organization came about,
we saw results. That's what we desperately need now. Perhaps we could call
it M.A.M.A.-Mothers Against Mercury Amalgams."
Dr. Williamson continues: "One of these days, there's going to be a
mammoth lawsuit about mercury fillings, similar to one that's already been
filed in Canada. It's going to be bigger than what we've seen over tobacco.
It's going to hit people like a Mack truck that putting mercury amalgam in
their teeth amounts to putting poison in their mouths. Once they realize
that in no uncertain terms, they're going to be angry. Part of our job is to
educate, inform and disturb them so they'll do something about it."
"Mercury vapor is toxic, period," Dr. Williamson goes on. "The fetus
is especially vulnerable to that toxicity, which can cause brain damage.
Specifically, mercury vapor can cause learning disabilities, autism and
attention deficit disorder in unborn children. How will parents feel when
they grasp that?"
Dr. Williamson and his colleague, Jordan Davis, M.D., say toxicity due
to mercury amalgams is pandemic in our society-yet hardly anybody
understands or appreciates that fact. As it turns out, mercury toxicity
could provide a significant explanation for the explosion in learning and
behavioral problems, autism and a whole host of other conditions since World
War II-that 55-year period corresponds to the introduction and widespread
use of mercury amalgam.
"It's an enormous problem," explains Dr. Davis.
"There are the medical consequences, the symptoms. Mercury is toxic
and it harms people. We'll get into the science behind that statement
later-there's a ton of evidence to substantiate it."
Dr. Williamson says that the toxicity results in disorders primarily
of the central nervous system; the head, neck and oral cavity; the
gastrointestinal tract; the cardiovascular, renal and immune systems.
"Exposure to mercury fillings results in a chronic toxicity, not acute
poisoning," he noted as an aside.
According to Dr. Williamson, the toxicity can manifest in irritability
and anxiety, restlessness and emotional instability, loss of memory,
inability to concentrate, mental confusion, depression, anti-social
behavior, suicidal tendencies, muscle weakness and loss of coordination;
bleeding gums and loosening of teeth; abdominal cramps, chronic diarrhea
and/or constipation; abnormal heart rhythms and blood pressure (high or low)
and unexplained elevations of cholesterol and triglycerides; repeated
infections or cancer; and generalized complaints such as chronic headaches,
allergies, dermatitis, cold and clammy skin or excessive perspiration,
ringing in the ears, joint and muscle pain, unsteady gait, wheezing, heart
palpitations, sinus congestion, allergies, loss of appetite or chronic
Dr. Davis explains that these symptoms have inexplicably been on the
rise in the past 50 years, without any unifying explanation. But findings in
the past 10 years indicate that mercury toxicity may be the common link
between these seemingly unrelated symptoms.
There are specific treatment protocols to detoxify individuals and rid
them of their mercury burden. Removing mercury fillings is an obvious step
in that process, but surprisingly, it's not the first one. It must be
preceeded and followed by systemic detoxification. "We'll detail the
clinical treatment process later," said Dr. Davis.
The Mercury amalgam problem also works on the level of society as a public
health problem-an unrecognized one, at that. "The pervasive lack of public
awareness about this very serious issue is an obstacle to progress. Even
scientists and physicians tend to be relatively uninformed," says Dr. Davis.
"And there is even organized resistance on the part of dentists who
use mercury amalgams. There has been for a very long time because they have
a lot to lose. Dentists have pride, reputation, money and liability on the
line. To admit that they have mistakenly been using a harmful substance to
treat tooth decay for many years is a very difficult confession to make-and
it's fraught with extremely serious consequences."
Dr. Williamson is most outspoken about the scientific and ethical
issues of the mercury question. "When will dentists reach the point where
they'll say, 'We're not going to put poison in people's mouths any longer?
The science is blatantly overwhelming that mercury amalgams leak toxic
vapors. The irony is that dentists who place the compound in people's mouths
do not treat it like a toxic substance. In fact, leftover amalgam must be
disposed of according to strict EPA guidelines.
"More importantly," says Dr. Williamson, "there are studies from world
renowned institutions that categorically show a cause-and-effect
relationship between mercury and disease; this is particularly true of
"Mercury is a cytotoxin-i.e. it poisons cells. Why wouldn't it make
Many researchers have reasoned as much over the years but they never
had the scientific ammunition to overcome the arguments of organized
dentistry in favor of mercury amalgam. But in 1991, Boyd Haley, Ph.D., a
research toxicologist at the University of Kentucky in Lexington discovered
some hard evidence that changed the mercury debate for good.
"It was almost accidental," Dr. Haley told Life Extension. "I found
out how damaging mercury amalgam is to the brain while studying tissue
affected by Alzheimer's disease.
"The basic research I conducted shows the difference between normal
and diseased tissue. My own examination of Alzheimer's affected cells told
me there had to be a toxicant-a toxic substance that causes it. So I went
searching for one. I identified two environmental sources that could be
responsible: Cadmium, mainly found in cigarette smoke, and mercury." Dr.
Haley published his results. Then, the anti-amalgam lobby got in touch with
him and told him that dentists were putting "stuff" in people's mouths that
"Frankly, I thought they were nuts," says Dr. Haley. "No way would
anybody, let alone responsible health care professionals, put people at
serious risk by putting a toxic substance in their bodies, I reasoned.
"But I did an experiment. I put mercury amalgam in water. Then, I
placed a sample of brain tissue in that water and checked on it over time.
After a period of several weeks, I noticed that the exposure to mercury had
suppressed the secretion from the brain tissue of tubulin-a major enzyme
that performs critical functions in the brain. This finding was consistent
both with mercury toxicity and with brain tissue as affected by Alzheimer's
Dr. Haley continues: "From that, I concluded that there's clearly
leakage from mercury amalgam-and that there's a strong probability that
people who have such fillings in their teeth are being exposed to chronic,
low-dose mercury leakage." According to Dr. Haley, having a mouthful of
mercury from age 14 until age 65 and beyond would greatly increase risk in
anyone susceptible to Alzheimer's disease.
Needless to say, dentists do not welcome Dr. Haley's views. "They
insist mercury amalgam is safe, non-toxic and that it doesn't leak. [But the
fact of the matter is that] mercury is a neurotoxin. It leeches out of
dental fillings, of that there is no doubt. Anybody can measure it. It
heightens the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease as well as other
neurolgical disorders. Dentists defend their use of mercury amalgam, but it'
s unjustifiable. I feel like I've been arguing with the town drunk for eight
or nine years. My conclusion is simple and direct: mercury is the toxicant
behind Alzheimer's disease. It may not be the only one, but mercury's role
in the development of Alzheimer's disease is clear."
Dr. Williamson applauds Prof. Haley's impeccable science and says his
findings establish a straight cause-and-effect relationship. But from his
perspective as a clinician, he believes the Alzheimer's disease connection
is only the tip of the iceberg.
"The list of problems mercury vapor can cause is endless. There is an
extremely high incidence of depression, memory loss and behavioral problems
including violent outbursts that can be explained by exposure to mercury
vapor," Dr. Williamson told Life Extension.
He says that mercury toxicity also produces systemic effects, from foul
breath and ringing in the ears to general fatigue or unexplained numbness or
burning sensations that may be related. Most disturbingly, Dr. Williamson
points out, is the evidence linking mercury vapor exposure to the
development of chronic kidney disease and autoimmune disorders such as
arthritis, lupus erythematosus (LE), multiple sclerosis (MS), scleroderma,
amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and hypothyroidism.
"The real point is this: mercury is toxic. And that statement is now
According to Dr. Williamson, The World Health Organization (WHO)
states that there is no safe level of mercury in humans that does not kills
cells and harm body processes. Florida's environmental regulatory agency
notes that one mercury filling from one tooth thrown into a lake is enough
to contaminate that lake for fishing and swimming. Dentists have
consistently denied that mercury amalgam is dangerous, but, says Dr.
Williamson, "that position is simply wrong. We won't spend a lot of time
analyzing why dentists have maintained this mistaken position, but mistaken
"The American Dental Association, which for so long has promoted the
use of mercury amalgams, has recently divested itself of any culpability
with regard to mercury. In a case before the Superior Court of the State of
California, lawyers for The ADA and others stated: 'The ADA owes no legal
duty of care to protect the public from allegedly dangerous products used by
dentists. The ADA did not manufacture, design, supply or install the
mercury-containing amalgams. The ADA does not control those who do. The ADA'
s only alleged involvement in the product was to provide information
regarding its use. Dissemination of information relating to the practice of
dentistry does not create a duty of care to protect the public from
potential injury.' "
Dr. Williamson goes on to make an observation: "Now, an obvious
question arises: if mercury were safe, as the dental profession has insisted
for years, why would the American Dental Association feel obligated to claim
nobody can hold it responsible for the harm it has caused? Their statement
is just a way of saying, 'the stuff's dangerous, but don't blame us if it
hurts you.' "
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Dental Group Defends Mercury Amalgams: No Autism
[This testimony by the President of the American Dental Association,
Robert M. Anderton, was presented at Dan Burton's Committee on Government
Reform looking into environmental mercury poisoning, in Washington D.C.,
April 25, 2001.]
The American Dental Association (ADA) requests that the Committee on
Government Reform accept this letter as a statement for the record for the
committee's hearing on April 25, entitled "Autism -- Why the Increased
Rates? A One Year Update."
During the hearing, Dr. Boyd E. Haley stated in his testimony that
elementary mercury from dental amalgams could work synergistically with
other ethyl-mercury sources and have a cumulative toxic affect on the body.
Dr. Haley postulated that this could be a potential cause of autism and
There is no scientifically valid evidence linking either autism or
Alzheimer's disease with dental amalgam. And there is no scientifically
valid evidence demonstrating in vivo transformation of inorganic or mercury
vapor into organo mercury species in individuals occupationally exposed to
amalgam mercury vapor. (Chang, S.B. et al., Factors Affecting Blood Mercury
Concentrations in Practicing Dentists; Journal of Dental Research 1992,
Based on currently available scientific evidence, the ADA believes
that dental amalgam is a safe, affordable and durable material for all but a
handful of individuals who are allergic to one of its components. It
contains a mixture of metals such as silver, copper and tin, in addition to
mercury, which chemically binds these components into a hard, stable and
safe substance. Dental amalgam has been used for more than 150 years and,
during that time, has established an extensively reviewed record of safety
Issued in late 1997, the FDI World Dental Federation and the World
Health Organization consensus statement on dental amalgam stated, "No
controlled studies have been published demonstrating systemic adverse
effects from amalgam restorations." The document also states that, aside
from rare instances of local side effects of allergic reactions, "the small
amount of mercury released from amalgam restorations, especially during
placement and removal, has not been shown to cause any . adverse health
The ADA's Council on Scientific Affairs' 1998 report on its review of
the recent scientific literature on amalgam states: "The Council concludes
that, based on available scientific information, amalgam continues to be a
safe and effective restorative material." The Council's report also states,
"There currently appears to be no justification for discontinuing the use of
In an article published in the February 1999 issue of the Journal of
the American Dental Association, researchers report finding "no significant
association of Alzheimer's disease with the number, surface area or history
of having dental amalgam restorations" and "no statistically significant
differences in brain mercury levels between subjects with Alzheimer's
disease and control subjects."
The U.S. Public Health Service issued a report in 1993 stating there
is no health reason not to use amalgam, except in the extremely rare case of
the patient who is allergic to a component of amalgam. This supports the
findings of the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of
Health Technology Assessment Conference and the National Institute of Dental
and Craniofacial Research, that dental amalgam is a safe and effective
There have been several peer reviewed scientific studies concerning
the safety of dental amalgam. These studies disprove any link between dental
amalgam and various medical conditions. We have listed some of them below:
Dahl JE, Sundby J, Hensten-Pettersen A, Jacobsen N. " Dental Workplace
exposure and effect on fertility " Scand J Work Environ Health 1999
The study groups consisted of 558 female dental surgeons (1/3 of whom
placed more than 50 fillings a week) and 450 high school teachers (control)
that had given birth in Norway to at least 1 living child. The study
comprised data from a total of 1408 pregnancies. The effects of practicing
dentistry and of the given workplace exposure on fertility were analyzed
with the discrete proportional hazard regression method.
Conclusions: Occupational exposures had no clear adverse effects on
fertility among the female dental surgeons studied.
Schuurs AH. " Reproductive toxicity of occupational mercury. A review
of the literature" J. Dent 1999;27(4):249-56.
This paper provides insight into the potential reproductive effects on
handling dental silver amalgam. Both animals and case reports and
epidemiological studies were reviewed. Conclusions: The studies conclude
that negative reproductive effects from exposure to mercury in the dental
office are unproven. Consequently, given the low amounts of mercury stemming
from dental amalgam fillings, the population at large are at even less risk
than dental staff.
Saxe SR, Wekstein MW et al. "Alzheimer's disease, dental amalgam and
mercury", JADA 1999 Feb;130(2):191-9
This study consisted of 68 human subjects with diagnosed Alzheimer's
disease and 33 control subjects without Alzheimer's to determine mercury
levels in multiple brain regions at autopsy and to ascertain the subjects'
dental amalgam status and history. Conclusions: Mercury in dental amalgam
restorations does not appear to be a neurotoxic factor in the pathogenesis
of this disease. The authors found that brain mercury levels are not
associated with dental amalgam, either from existing amalgam restorations or
according to subjects' dental amalgam restoration history. Furthermore,
dental amalgam restorations, regardless of number, occlusal surface area or
time, do not relate to brain mercury level.
Ahlqwist M, Bengtsson C et al, "Serum mercury concentration in
relation to survival, symptoms, and diseases: results from the prospective
population study of women in Gotherburg, Sweden. Acta Odontol Scand 1999
This prospective population study of women in Gothenburg, Sweden was
started in 1968-69 and comprised of 1462 women aged 38-60 years at baseline.
Follow-up studies were conducted in 1974-75, 1980-81 and 1992-93.
Conclusions: No statistically significant correlation was observed between
dental amalgam and the incidence of diabetes, myocardial infarction, stroke,
or cancer. No association was established between disease and mercury on a
population basis in middle-aged and older women.
The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research is
currently supporting two very large clinical trials on the health effects of
dental amalgam. Studies underway for several years each in Portugal and the
Northeastern United States involve not only direct neurophysiological
measures but also behavioral and cognitive functional assessments. In
addition, the trials are monitoring the impact of amalgam on immune
function, antibiotic resistance and renal function. Preliminary findings
from these studies are consistent with any number of small and large
epidemiological studies published over the years concerning the health
effects of dental amalgam.
The ADA supports ongoing research in the development of new materials
that it hopes will someday prove to be as safe and effective as dental
amalgam. However, the ADA continues to believe that amalgam is a valuable,
viable and safe choice for dental patients and concurs with the findings of
the U.S. Public Health Service that amalgam has "continuing value in
maintaining oral health."
Lenny Schafer, Editor Catherine Johnson PhD Ron Sleith Kay Stammers
Editor@feat.org Edward Decelie CALENDAR: Michelle Guppy firstname.lastname@example.org