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Over the years, there has been a lot of discussion in the dental health community surrounding the mercury content in dental amalgam fillings and whether they pose a health risk to the public. According to WebMD, for decades, people have debated whether this mercury can cause a wide range of medical problems, from cancer to Alzheimer's disease, and it has remained a heated topic to this day. Recently, researchers from the University of Michigan discovered that when it comes to mercury in fillings, people may be overestimating the danger.
According to the scientists, one common test used to determine toxic mercury levels released from fillings may significantly overstate how much of this metal is actually present.
A fishy problem
Researchers explained that public health studies often assume that the mercury content in a person's urine can determine how much of this substance he or she has been exposed to through their fillings. To weed out this mercury from the kind people get through their diets from eating fish, researchers in these public studies usually examined hair samples as well, which would contain organic mercury.
The scientists in this recent study measured mercury isotopes in the hair and urine from 12 Michigan dentists and discovered that their urine actually contained mercury from both their fillings and the fish they consumed. Laura Sherman, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and lead author of the paper, explained that this means the assumption that all of the mercury content in urine comes from dental fillings may be wrong.
"These data suggest that in populations that eat fish but lack occupational exposure to mercury vapor, mercury concentrations in urine may overestimate exposure to mercury vapor from dental amalgams. This is an important consideration for studies seeking to determine the health risks of mercury vapor inhalation from dental amalgams," said U-M biogeochemist Joel Blum, a co-author of the paper.
How dangerous is mercury?
Researchers explained that inorganic mercury may cause damage to the central nervous system, heart and immune system. Dentists may be particularly vulnerable to these effects because they spend years installing mercury amalgam fillings.
However, when it comes to patients, the American Dental Association is confident that people have nothing to fear. The ADA states that it's important for people to understand that when mercury is combined with the other metals that make up a filling, such as silver, tin and copper, it forms a safe, stable material.
Regardless, people who feel truly uncomfortable about mercury in fillings have alternative options. For example, the ADA points out that there are also composite resin fillings that are made out of glass or quartz and look more like teeth than amalgam fillings, but they may be more expensive and tend to be less durable than amalgam fillings.
There are also gold fillings available, but these are also more costly than an amalgam filling, and they still do not really resemble an actual tooth the way composite resin ones do.
Individuals who do not like the idea of any of these options should know that they have another choice - they can take proper care of their teeth. Brushing twice a day, flossing at least once, eating a healthy, balanced diet that is low in sugar and visiting the dentist every six months can help keep teeth cavity-free so people won't need to go through the hassle of getting a filling in the first place. As the ADA puts it: "The best dental filling is no filling." People should be sure to care for their teeth and they won't have to worry about what type of filling is right for them.
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