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By Amanda Just and John Kall, DMD of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) via The World Mercury Project

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If everyone had the same reaction to environmental toxicants, these hazardous substances would probably be banned immediately. It would be obvious to everyone, as well as their doctors, that exposure to a specific toxic material results in a definitive outcome– the exact same illness shared by all of those who come into contact with the dangerous substance. However, research has demonstrated that individuals respond to environmental toxicants in a way that is unique to their own bodies.

This “personalized response” has been studied in depth in the case of dental mercury. In fact, examining the science behind dental mercury sheds light on the complex variability of environmental illnesses. It also offers hope that this newfound understanding can help heal the ailing state of 21st century public health.

What is dental mercury?

Often referred to as “silver fillings,” all dental amalgams consist of 45-55% metallic mercury. Mercury is a known neurotoxin.  Amalgams are still used for about 45% of all direct dental restorations worldwide, including in the US.

What are some of the health risks that have been linked to dental mercury?

Properly diagnosing “adverse health effects” related to dental mercury amalgam fillings is impeded by the list of potential responses to the elemental form of the substance, which include over 250 symptoms. Not all individuals will experience the same symptom or combination of symptoms. Moreover, scientists have associated the mercury in amalgam fillings with Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), antibiotic resistance, anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, infertility, kidney disease, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and other health problems. 

Response factor #1: The form of the substance

Mercury exists in different forms and compounds, and these different forms and compounds can produce different results in humans that are exposed to them. The type of mercury used in amalgam fillings is elemental (metallic) mercury. In contrast, the mercury in fish is methylmercury, and the mercury in the vaccine preservative thimerosal is ethylmercury.

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Response factor #2: Different organs within the body

Another reason for the wide-range of symptoms is that mercury can accumulate in virtually any organ. In the case of dental mercury fillings, an estimated 80% of this mercury vapor is absorbed by the lungs and passed to the rest of the body, particularly the brain, kidney, liver, lung, and gastrointestinal tract. The half life of metallic mercury varies depending on the organ where the mercury was deposited.

Response factor #3: Delayed effects 

Symptoms of toxic exposures can take many years to manifest themselves. For example, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recognizes that chronic diseases related to toxic exposures can have latency periods of 20-30 years or longer.

Response factor #4: Allergies 

Allergies and hypersensitivities are yet another essential aspect of reactions to toxic substances. Since most patients are not tested for mercury allergies prior to dental amalgam exposure, as many as 21 million people could be unknowingly allergic to the mercury in their mouths.  However, this figure could be higher since metal allergies are reportedly on the rise. 

Response factor #5: Genetic predisposition 

A growing volume of recently published scientific research is examining how mercury exposure can pose highly significant risks to individuals with specific genetic traits including CPOX4, APOE, BDNF, MT polymorphisms, COMT variants, MTHFR mutations, and PON1 variants. A 2016 news story featuring several prevalent dental mercury researchers established that 25-50% of people have these genetic variants and endure “a lifetime risk” of neurological damage.

Response factor #6: Other considerations

In addition to the weight and age of the individual, as well as other existing health conditions, the number of amalgam fillings, gender, dental plaque, diet, consumption of milk or alcohol, and other circumstances can play a role in each person’s unique response to mercury. Another important consideration is the synergy between different toxic exposures experienced by the same individual.

Conclusion

Clearly, the precise way that a person’s body responds to an environmental toxicant is based on a spectrum of circumstances and conditions. The factors described in this article are only a fraction of numerous pieces in the puzzle of adverse health effects related to toxic exposures. The science behind dental mercury demonstrates that in order to fully understand environmental illness, we need to recognize that just as each toxic exposure is unique, so is each person impacted by such a toxic exposure. As we accept this reality, we also offer ourselves the opportunity to create a future where dentistry and medicine acknowledge that each patient responds to materials and treatments differently. We also offer ourselves the opportunity to use safer products that reduce the overall toxic burden in our bodies and forge the path to renewed health.

To read a more detailed version of this article, including citations and scientific sources of information, click here to visit the webpage from the IAOMT.

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