Amalgam fillings finally get a health warning in the US

America’s health regulators have finally fallen into line with other authorities around the world to recognise amalgam fillings as a health hazard.

Children, pregnant women, those planning to start a family and nursing mothers should have their teeth filled with a safer compound, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced.

Vapours from amalgam fillings—which contain mercury—can affect the growing fetus and cause neurological harm to the baby and mother. The fillings are constantly releasing vapours that accumulate in the body’s organs and tissues, the FDA has warned.

Although defenders of the use of mercury have argued that a ‘safe’ form of mercury, elemental mercury, is used in the fillings, scientists have discovered it gets converted into methylmercury, the same type that is found in some fish, such as tuna.

The FDA has also instructed dentists to stop describing amalgam as ‘silver fillings’, but instead explain that they are 50 percent mercury, and that safer options are available.

It its statement, the FDA explains: “Dental amalgam is a mixture of metals, consisting of liquid (elemental) mercury and a powdered alloy composed of silver, tin and copper. Approximately half of dental amalgam is elemental mercury by weight…and is often referred to as ‘silver fillings’, although this term is not recommended because it does not correctly explain the materials in amalgam.”

It has taken the FDA a year to issue its new health advisory, which was influenced by a scientific review that took place in September, 2019, and by a 10-year campaign by the pressure group Consumers for Dental Choice.

Despite the change in the FDA’s position on amalgam, the American Dental Association still maintains that amalgam is safe and issued a statement that “reaffirms its position that dental amalgam is a durable, safe and effective cavity-filling option.”

Although amalgam is one of the most flexible and malleable compounds, only a minority of dentists uses it regularly. Aside from the damage to the health of the patient, dentists are also very aware that fumes from the mercury can cause them permanent neurological harm.

(Source: FDA statement, September 24, 2020)