When you think of mercury, what comes to mind? Perhaps breaking open a thermometer in science class and letting blobs of liquid silver play across your hands as you listened to your teacher lecture about this unique metal.
Though this “hands-on” approach to learning might have caught your attention back in grade school, the general public and health organizations now recognize the potential harm of long-term mercury exposure. As such, it has been banned from most household goods in the United States.
Yet, it continues to pop up somewhere you might least expect it. Even if you haven’t touched liquid mercury since you were a child, you might still be inhaling the toxic vapors into your body. Not from a science project decades ago but from your supposedly harmless dental fillings.
Types of mercury
Mercury is a naturally occurring heavy metal found in the earth’s crust. It exists in three separate forms, elemental, organic, and inorganic.
- Elemental mercury, also known as quicksilver, liquid silver, or metallic mercury is the most well-known and talked about form of mercury. It is liquid at room temperature.
It is used in dental fillings, thermometers, and even lightbulbs. Mercury is unlikely to cause health issues in small amounts in liquid form, as it absorbs through the skin very slowly. However, when it is at room temperature or hotter and uncontained, it will start to evaporate and release colorless, odorless vapors that can prove toxic.
- Organic mercury is mercury combined with carbon to form organic mercury compounds. Mercury can be converted naturally in the environment into organic mercury when it is exposed to certain microscopic organisms in water and soil. Methylmercury is the most common byproduct of this conversion and can build up in fish or shellfish.
- Inorganic mercury is another mercury compound. However, unlike organic mercury, which occurs when the mercury combines with carbon, inorganic mercury occurs when the mercury combines with other elements like sulfur or oxygen. It can irritate the digestive system and is used in certain industrial processes to make other chemicals.
History of mercury amalgam fillings
In the early 1800s, dentists were on a quest for an effective means of filling tooth cavities and preventing decay. Enter mercury and dental amalgams to the scene. At the start, amalgams contained metals like silver, copper, zinc, and mercury and quickly became popular due to their low cost and longevity.
However, this growing practice received backlash in 1844. The American Society of Dental Surgeons became concerned about possible mercury poisoning and required all members to sign pledges not to use amalgam fillings in their dentistry. Certain dentists ignored these warnings and received suspensions for malpractice after using amalgam fillings.
Eventually, the low-cost overruled the controversy, and The American Society of Dental Surgeons was replaced by the American Dental Association, a group of dentists who supported mercury fillings. Soon, these fillings became standard and have remained popular for over 150 years.
But what about the safety concerns?
Remember the American Society of Dental Surgeons? Their concerns regarding mercury fillings were very legitimate. Throughout history, inhalation of mercury vapor has been linked to poor health and illness.
Mercury miners and people in occupations that required regular mercury exposure experienced poor mental health, headaches, brain fog, and confusion. In fact, “mad hatters disease,” chronic mercury poisoning of hat makers who used mercury to stiffen felt, is thought to be the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Unfortunately, this has been the filling of choice for over 150 years. Millions of people walk around with this metal mixture in their mouths, potentially experiencing adverse health effects without realizing it.
Why mercury fillings are dangerous
The great amalgam controversy
Today, amalgam fillings contain powdered silver, tin, and copper, combined with 50 percent metallic mercury. Dentists mix these to form a putty and then press it into the cavity, where it hardens and fills in the affected area, keeping it from further decay.
The amalgam filling controversy is significant. With strong advocates on both sides of the argument, it can be hard to discern truth from lies. The American Dental Association and mainstream dentists still support mercury fillings. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says, “Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on developing children and fetus nervous systems.”
Mercury vapor is toxic. Yet advocates of these fillings claim the mercury used to fill cavities is stable and doesn’t release any vapor. Except, of course, when the filling ages and starts to degrade or when the patient chews food.
A filling that is designed to last for 10-15 years will undoubtedly degrade, meaning that mercury exposure is inevitable. Essentially, mercury vapor is continually released from fillings into the body.
Even if you are willing to accept a small level of mercury exposure (which is still dangerous), do you really want something in your mouth that releases a toxic vapor every time you bite into a carrot or grind your teeth in your sleep?
Mercury toxicity from fillings increases with:
- Age of the filling
- Grinding your teeth
- Carbonated soda
- Lots of fillings
- Aggressive chewing
- Brushing teeth
- Removal or placement of filling
- Hot drinks like coffee and tea
Mercury in fish
As mentioned above, mercury can build up in the water, creating toxic fish that contain mercury levels above the “recommended safe” amount. But aren’t fish healthy and full of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids? Absolutely! Fish are an integral part of a heart-supportive diet.
However, avoid eating larger, longer-living fish with high methylmercury levels, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, to protect yourself from potentially harmful mercury exposure.
How mercury affects your heart
Mercury vapor from fillings and other sources can leach into your bloodstream, brain, and organs, contributing to various cardiovascular conditions.
- Causes inflammation
- Increases stroke risk
- Reduces heart rate variability
- Contributes to oxidized LDL
- Increases free radicals
- Leads to tachycardia
- Contributes to chest pain
- Lead to hypertension
- Contributes to hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis
- Causes hypertension
- Promotes free radicals
- Raises blood pressure
Other effects of mercury toxicity
Mercury is bioaccumulative, meaning it can remain in the body for long periods, building up over time and becoming more toxic the more you are exposed. Continued exposure may result in:
- Vision impairment
- Coordination issues
- Chronic fatigue
- Mental health issues
- Memory loss
- Behavior change
- Respiratory problems
- Weight loss
- Kidney problems
- Hearing loss
- Sleep problems or insomnia
What you can do
Millions of people have “silver” fillings currently nestled in their pearly whites. You might never feel any adverse effects, but you could also remain sick for years.
Speak with your holistic dentist about your next steps. They can advise the best course of action and recommend removing the fillings and replacing them with something less toxic or leaving them in. Sometimes, mercury fillings are best left alone once in the mouth as they can release toxic vapors when removed.
If your filling is older (over ten years), in poor condition, or is causing health issues, most holistic dentists will recommend removal. Studies have shown a subjective improvement in health conditions following amalgam removal.
Alternatives to amalgam fillings
If your dentist has recently found a cavity in your mouth and you are waiting for a filling, consider asking them about alternatives to amalgam. Other options can help protect your heart (and the rest of your body) from possible mercury poisoning.
Alternative fillings include:
- Tooth-colored (composite) resin
- Glass ionomer
Note: Children, pregnant women, nursing mothers, people with neurological impairment, kidney dysfunction, or mercury allergies could be at a higher risk of toxicity from dental amalgam placement or removal.
Those shining “silver” fillings from years of poor childhood brushing habits and candy consumption could come back to bite you, leeching toxic mercury vapors into your body and making you sick. Order our Heavy Metals Test to give you a glimpse into the toxic metal buildup in your body and assess your risk of illness from high mercury levels.
Don’t let your 100 Year Heart slip through your grasp — speak to your holistic dentist today about your mercury toxicity risk and consider taking steps to remove this toxic metal from your body.
Eat Well · Live Well · Think Well
Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD