By Jordan Hoffman L.Ac., Dipl.OM
A 55-year-old female with a nagging cough lasting 20 years. All labs negative.
A 63-year-old female with unexplained dizziness and vertigo. All labs negative.
A 34-year-old male with facial twitches and nervous ticks and a history of teeth grinding.
A 48-year-old female with chronic tendonitis.
A 46-year-old male with neuropathy.
What do all of these patients have in common? Heavy metal toxicity from their dental fillings.
These are just 5 of the most recent patients I have treated who, despite their different chief complaints, all had a mouth full of dental amalgams that were leaking mercury into their system. For some, their dental amalgams were the cause. While for others, their fillings have been such a persistent tax on their immune function that they have not been able to adequately deal with the main reason for their chief complaint.
One of the primary challenges I have in my clinical practice is that many patients come to me with long-standing conditions, having had little to no success with other treatments. They are frustrated and feel there is only darkness at the end of the tunnel. But after a detailed history and a thorough examination, sometimes I am able to crack open the door and reveal a little bit of light. Identifying heavy metal toxicity from dental amalgams and connecting it to their main health issues offers these patients validation that they are not crazy and that there is a legitimate physical reason for their “mysterious” condition. It had simply fallen through the cracks of conventional medical diagnostics.
For over 150 years, dentists have been using heavy metals to fill cavities. (1) But since metals are expensive, amalgams were developed. Your average dental amalgam is 1 part Mercury (Hg) to 1 part Silver (Ag), Tin (Sn), Zinc (Zn) and Copper (Cu). Mercury is the least expensive of these metals and it would be used entirely if it were not for the fact that it is too soft. Therefore it is mixed with other more durable and harder metals. So, be aware that the “silver” filling your dentist just put in your mouth is far more mercury than silver. Silver just sounds better and does not raise as much concern. Mercury can be ingested, inhaled as a vapor, or absorbed directly into the blood stream through the mucosal lining of the gums. And the conventional method of testing for heavy metal toxicity is to test blood, urine or hair (as an extension of blood). Yet, heavy metals do not always circulate in these fluids; they may instead attach to fat cells and not freely circulate thereby making these tests less than accurate. Once they have leached out of your teeth, heavy metals like mercury can trigger a cascade of diseases and conditions in every system of the body.
Old Science vs. New Times
If you ask your current dentist about the dangers of dental mercury, you are likely to get one of two types of answers. They could already be onboard with using composites instead of amalgams, like the dentist I refer my patients to. Or they could stand by the conventional position of dental amalgam safety and dismiss your questions outright as having no evidence to support amalgam removal. In some cases, the latter may reluctantly agree to remove yours out of deference to your relationship with them. This procedure must be done safely with a dental dam to protect against swallowing any mercury and an oxygen mask to prevent against inhaling any mercury vapor. The dentist must be properly trained.
So, why the split in modern dentistry? And who do we believe?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes the following perplexing position on mercury: “Mercury is persistent, bio-accumulative, and toxic and is responsible for significant environmental degradation around the world. Although its use in most product applications does not present a risk, the subsequent disposal of any product containing mercury does. Amalgam is no different.” (2) They go on to describe the very elaborate means of proper disposal of this highly toxic and indestructible substance, and acknowledge that, as of 2004, 26% of all mercury found in the environment was due to the improper disposal of dental mercury. (3) The key question is this:
If it is so toxic to the environment and so hard to properly dispose of, how is it safe in our mouths in the one place that, without a doubt, gets the most wear and tear, the surface of our teeth?
The conventional definition of mercury toxicity applies to large or workplace exposures that, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), lead to “kidney failure, seizures and tremors, memory loss, poor physical coordination and insomnia.” (4) They, along with the American Dental Association (ADA) (5), the World Health Organization (6) and the US Public Health Service (7), also say that there is no or at best inconclusive scientific evidence supporting limiting the use of mercury-based fillings. Yet, the NIH paradoxically suggest avoiding the use of or even removing amalgams in pregnant women as a safety measure against leaking any mercury to the fetus in utero. (8) This seems to suggest that our mature immune systems can actually handle such a toxic load. My findings indicate otherwise.
The NIH offers this: “Although mercury vapor is released from dental amalgam, the quantities released are very small and do not cause verifiable adverse effects on human beings. While there is no scientific evidence that existing dental restorative materials are not safe, it must be recognized that the supporting data are incomplete.” (9) Incomplete is the operative word. If you are a dentist, why dismiss the concerns of your patients when “data are incomplete?” I understand being conservative and not undergoing unnecessary procedures. But I can also see that in admitting to amalgam toxicity, your dentist and the ADA would have to admit that they have been poisoning you all these years. And that is a tough position for any doctor to take. Are data actually incomplete? One look at the detailed work of Hal Huggins, DDS, and you would see that there is plenty of research to support that other side of the argument—dental mercury is toxic to our health. (10)
The NIH goes on to say, “If immunologic hypersensitivity to these metals does occur, it is likely to be a delayed hypersensitivity reaction.” (11) There are two parts to this statement. First is the question of the delayed response. By and large, I am looking at amalgams in patients that date back 20 or more years ago. Given that heavy metal toxicity does not cause one disease and can occur slowly over time, I can understand how difficult it would be to study such an elusive issue. But acknowledging the potential for the delayed reaction is a step in the right direction for further study.
And the second part of that statement is the hypersensitivity response. This is about the quality and enduring integrity of the amalgam itself and, if it is compromised through teeth grinding, poor dental hygiene, or excessive use of citric acid like lemons which act as a chelating agent drawing the mercury from the filling, how your immune system is handling such a challenge. Is it struggling to clear the toxicity? Have you developed an auto-immune response to the presence of mercury that is causing a cascade of other problems? While there may be several factors that either speed up or slow down the degradation of your fillings, at some point they will start to cause you problems and ought to be safely replaced with composite.
What is the next step?
The old definitions and tests for mercury toxicity clearly no longer apply. Scientists need to figure out a way to test is for antibodies to the mercury itself. How is your body unique in its handling of the mercury? And with the only common presentation being chronic inflammation, persistent immune compromise, possible nervous system dysfunction, which of your health issues can be connected to mercury leaking from your fillings?
If you are concerned about your fillings, come in for an exam with me. If I find there is a connection between your symptoms and your teeth, then I will prescribe an herbal formula to help deal with the damage. I will also recommend consulting with your dentist. If they are amenable and properly trained to remove dental amalgams and replace them with composite, then determine which of your fillings are most in need of replacement. If the dentist is not open to doing this procedure or dismisses your concerns, I am happy to refer you to a qualified dentist who will help.
If, on the other hand, perhaps for financial reasons or fear of dentist reasons, you are unable to proceed with amalgam removal, then at the very least, let’s minimize the damage through a course of treatment with herbs and acupuncture. So long as we see continuing improvement in your symptoms, then in your own time, begin to replace them. But if on a given day you come in and you have damaged your tooth in any way, and a new injection of mercury has leached into your system, then it may be time for more assertive action.
The reality of modern day life in a major metropolitan city is that our immune systems are under constant attack and are working over-time to protect us from air pollution, unclean food, stress, all sorts of other challenges. Some of those are beyond our control, but some aren’t. I focus a great deal of my clinical efforts on the things my patients have control over like food and their own bodies. Mercury toxicity from dental amalgams may be a new area of medicine where there may be doubters and detractors, but if I can help connect your dental health to whatever it is you are chronically suffering from, then this is one of the most critical steps you can take to take charge of your own health.
1. 150 Years of Dental Amalgam: Case Reports spanning 150 years on the advers effects of dental amalgam. Relationship to poisoning by elemental mercury. Fredrik Berglund, MD, PhD. Bio-Probe, 1995.
1. Dental Mercury Detox, Sam Ziff, Michael Ziff, DDS, Mats Hanson, PhD. Bio-Probe, Inc. 1997
2. Mercury Poisoning from Dental Amalgam—a Hazard to Human Health, Patrick Stortebecker, MD, PhD. Stockholm Foundation for Research, Bio-Probe, 1986.