October 2nd 2012, 16:11
The news that the European Parliament is expected to ban mercury fillings throughout the 27 member states, including the UK, raises two questions: why was mercury ever put in our teeth in the first place, and why have the dental associations always been so ready to defend the use of one of the most toxic elements?
The answer to the first question is now lost in the mists, although cost appears to have been an over-riding factor when it was mooted as an acceptable filler of dental cavities around 160 years ago. Gold was the only material available, and mercury was more pliable, durable - and far less expensive. By mixing it with copper, tin and silver - thus creating an amalgam, the name given to the fillings - dentists believed the mercury would be stabilised and 'locked in'. And as the early patients seemed able to stand and walk out of the surgery, dentists believed it was safe.