Health Team

FDA reviews safety of tooth fillings containing mercury

Posted December 17, 2010 4:07 p.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2010 6:46 p.m. EST

Ross Prevett has suffered with allergies for most of his life. He says he started breathing a whole lot easier after he had his silver fillings taken out.

"As the days rolled on, my sinuses just kept getting clearer, much less symptoms -- no sneezing, runny nose," Prevett said.

Amalgam dental fillings are made of liquid mercury and a mixture of powdered metals, including silver, tin and copper.

For decades there has been a debate over whether the fillings are safe. A year and a half ago, the FDA ruled the fillings safe, but an advisory panel met recently to review the scientific evidence again.

Consumer advocacy groups claim mercury can trigger health problems from neurological disorders to breathing issues and even heart disease.

"Mercury is considered hazardous before it goes in the mouth. It has to be disposed of as hazardous waste when it comes out of the mouth. Why would it be safe in the mouth?" asked dentist Dr. Mark Breiner.

But the American Dental Association stands by the fillings, which have been used in the U.S. for more than 50 years. The group says tens of millions of Americans have used the fillings and never had a problem.

Numerous studies show the level of mercury in amalgams is too low to cause health problems.

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with the use of amalgams," said Dr. David Tarrab, of the New York University College of Dentistry.

Most dentists are now using white composite to fill teeth because it looks better; but amalgam is still popular because it is cheaper.

The FDA advisory panel isn't looking to ban the fillings, but consumer advocates are hoping for restrictions on their use in pregnant women and children.

Ross Prevett believes getting rid of his silver fillings improved his health dramatically.

Several countries in Europe already ban or restrict the use of amalgams.