Thursday, June 12, 2008


Your silver dental fillings contain mercury, and the government is warning that your silver fillings may pose a safety concern for pregnant women as well as young children. The Food and Drug Administration posted the precaution on its Web site earlier this month, to settle a lawsuit making the move a victory for anti-mercury activists.

The warning is not aimed at the worlds population, only at two groups already urged to limit mercury from another source seafood because too much can harm a developing brain.

The fillings, also known as dental amalgams, "contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses," reads the FDA Web posting.

But the FDA isn't saying you should rush out and start yanking them fillings...not yet at least.

The agency still is studying whether the small amount of mercury vapor released by chewing and brushing is enough to cause neurologic disorders or other problems in youngsters. There have been only a handful of rigorous studies comparing children given either amalgam fillings or tooth-colored resin composite fillings that are mercury-free — and those studies haven't detected any brain problems.

Nor has that research settled the long-simmering scientific controversy. Two years ago, the FDA's own independent scientific advisers said that while amalgam fillings were safe for most people, more research was needed about potential effects on fetuses and children under 6.

And earlier this year, the FDA put dentists on notice that it is considering additional controls, including whether to require warnings that would advise consumers of the mercury in amalgams before they have a cavity filled, or perhaps even restrict use in small children and certain other patients. It is accepting public comments until July 28.

"It's an open question what we will do," FDA Deputy Commissioner Randall Lutter told The Associated Press. But, "what this says is there's a clear intent on our part on labeling for sensitive subpopulations."

Expect a final ruling by July 28, 2009, a date set by that legal settlement.

"It's a watershed moment," said Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project, who with other advocacy groups had sued the FDA in hopes of forcing restrictions on amalgams.

Amalgam fillings are about 50 percent mercury, joined with silver, copper and tin. The hardened mixture makes the mercury less absorbable by the body than the kind found in fish.

Used since the 1800s, amalgams' popularity already is dropping. They account for about 30 percent of U.S. fillings, still millions of people a year.

They're cheaper than alternatives — roughly $100 for an amalgam filling versus $150 or more for a composite, and they're known as particularly durable.

For 99 percent-plus of people, there probably isn't harm. But if there is a group of people who might be at risk, they should at least have the knowledge that may be so.

Several other countries limit amalgams, either as a precaution in pregnant women and small children or because of environmental concern. Dental workers make amalgam fillings by mixing liquid mercury with powdered ingredients, requiring special safety steps and filters to limit waste seeping back into the environment.



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