Amalgam fillings - should they be removed?

Q:I, along with many of your readers, have a mouthful of amalgam fillings and so read the feature in WDDTY Vol. 3 No. 3 with interest and some dismay. Although expensive and painful it may be worth having them replaced with something less toxic, and so remove any risk. However, I have also had some root canal therapy. Is it your expert's advice that I should have these teeth removed? In my case this would be a drastic step as it would terminate my career as a wind playing musician, but if it should mean avoiding serious disease it needs consideration.

Such a decision requires more evidence.

I believe you may be incorrect in stating that virtually all research into this area is animal based. In 1987, the Lord Dowding Fund, which funds research without using animals, supported an international conference on the In Vitro Assessment of Biocompatibility of Dental Materials. The complete proceedings were published in Vol 21 No 2 of the International Endodontic Journal in March 1988. The Fund has also supported research by Dr Sylvia Neryon of the University of Birmingham Dental School into the toxicity of dental materials.

I feel that the results of this research should be available to WDDTY readers before any irreversible course is decided on. G.C., London.......

and also

Just a quick note. I am in receipt of your latest WDDTY and on reading it through I was dismayed and upset at the countless references to animal experiments. In fact, I did not read it through to the end.

I am a lifelong anti vivisectionist. I believe animal experiments to be completely useless, as animals and humans are so completely different that any results obtained from animals have no relevance to people. Hence the thalidomide and Opren disasters.

I feel that by quoting so many instances of animal experiments proving this or that you are giving credence to the scientists performing these cruel and useless experiments. I would not have subscribed to WDDTY if I had known this. E. D., Somerset......

and also

Unfortunately I read your articles on amalgam after having had a series of fillings, front and back, in late 1991.

At that time, I was a very fit and active 69 year old, enjoying a full social and domestic life. My only medication was 150 mg Atenol every day for high blood pressure, which I had for a few years.

In the New Year all the problems started. First I was quite ill with viral infections. I recovered, but a month later, I had the same again. Strangely, three days before the first attack I had an ante tetanus injection and at the same time an antibiotic for a vaginal discharge. The second attack was again three days after the second anti tetanus. At that time I had been given a different antibiotic for an infection in the kidneys.

Since then my doctor has put me on a higher dose of Atenol.

I have had loose bowels, feeling of nausea and loss of appetite, and a constant bitter taste in my mouth.

I mentioned about the fillings to my doctors, but he said he hadn't heard of it. I rang my dentist, but she said that the amount of mercury in the filings was so small that it was safe. I am now being referred to a consultant, but I have my doubts already as to whether he has heard of the problem. I am taking tranquillizers just hoping they might ease the anxiety until I get my appointment.

Perhaps one of your panel could advise me as to how I can help myself. J. P., Leamington Spa.....

A:The first and last letter bring up a point that we have attempted to emphasize with each story we do on the amalgam debate and will emphasize again: the current research being done does not mean that each person should automatically have all fillings removed. The same for root canal fillings. If you are perfectly well and not suffering from any symptoms that don't seem to be getting better, there is no reason for you to have them removed. As Hal Huggins said, if you are from healthy, long living stock, and don't have a health problem, leave your root canals alone.

Our only recommendation would be to investigate the possibility that the mercury fillings may be causing problems if you have an intractable problem like candida albicans, say, or allergies or multiple sclerosis that doesn't improve by other means. Numerous tests now can point to mercury sensitivity (Jack Levenson can provide information as to where tests can be conducted. Tel: 071-486 3127)

If you can prove that you are sensitive to mercury, you can have your fillings removed on the NHS.

Our third reader demonstrates how complicated the problem is. Soon after you had your new fillings put in, you also have had repeated courses of antibiotics, two tetanus shots and even tranquillizers. This, on top of an increase in the high blood pressure medicine you already take. Your symptoms could be caused by the fillings, or they could be caused by any one of the drugs, including your "tried and tested" Atenol, or even a combination of several.

Our suggestion, as always, is to consult a clinical ecologist who will take into consideration all the drugs you have taken as well as the levels of mercury in your body.

As for the complaint about animal experiments, we share your concern. Hence our disclaimer at the beginning of the story emphatically stating that we do not agree with the experiments. However, in the case of the root canal story, the research some of the only of its kind was performed in the early part of the century, before awareness had been raised about animal experimentation. Dr Vimy's work is important because having a group of scientists of that stature study the problem has finally "legitimatized" the amalgam debate in scientific and dental circles. Incidentally, we are not saying that it is the only scientific evidence (see Vol 1 No 5 for many other citations), only that it is among some of the most up to date.

Although we do not support animal experimentation, we are a publication, not a lobbying organization (unlike the various anti vivisectionist societies), and so cannot censor material that does not correspond with our views. To omit the work of Vimy even if we do not agree with his methods would have been irresponsible in the extreme. Our first duty is to provide our readers with all up to date material and to allow them to draw their own conclusions. We will continue to publish any study suggesting the danger of amalgam to any living thing, while arguing on our editorial pages (as we did in WDDTY Vol 2 No 6) for animal research to stop.