Table of Contents
How to read an Anti-Amalgamist Web page
If you do a Google search for “dental amalgam mercury” you will be presented with literally hundreds of thousands of results, almost all of them pointing to pages warning of the toxicity of dental amalgam. The people who write them are mostly good, honest folks. They are simply misguided in their beliefs concerning the dangers of dental amalgam.
Most believe that anyone who does not hold their beliefs is involved in a huge conspiracy to poison people for financial gain. Since there is SO MUCH misinformation concerning this subject, I provide some common sense guidelines to help you, the reader, to evaluate their claims:
Most of the claims against dental amalgam rely on the 1989 classification of scrap dental amalgam as an environmental waste contaminant. Amalgam is actually only one among many much more important sources of environmental mercury contamination such as fluorescent light tubes, batteries, numerous electronic components…..etc., the disposal of which fall under EPA guidelines. In fact, the EPA guidelines concerning the disposal of scrap dental amalgam is based on the theoretical ability of the otherwise insoluble mercury it contains to be converted to soluble salts and organic mercury by organisms in the soil. On the other hand, amalgam in your mouth remains insoluble and harmless. Yes, there are microorganisms in your mouth too, but they “eat” only organic material and do not convert mercury to organic or soluble forms. All anti-amalgamist arguments against dental amalgam rely exclusively on the EPA classification of waste dental amalgam as an environmental contaminant.
The EPA is NOT tasked with determining the actual medical risks to people from any product that contains substances it controls. Note that there are no EPA restrictions on the use of fluorescent light tubes, or, for that matter, on the use of dental amalgam–only on their disposal. The governmental body that IS tasked with the evaluation of the safety of medical devices and materials is the US Food and Drug Administration (the FDA).
Anti-Amalgamist sites NEVER reference the FDA which is the regulatory agency that is tasked with evaluating the actual medical risk to individuals and public health in general! If the Food and Drug Administration finds that dental amalgam poses a danger to the public, it has the power to ban its use. Since there is no scientific evidence that dental amalgam causes disease, the FDA has NOT discovered any reason to withdraw amalgam from the market or to warn the public about its use as it has with tobacco products. Click here to read the FDA’s official policy with respect to dental amalgam. (Note the (dot).gov extension in the url at the top of your browser when you go to this page. The dot (.) gov extension is your assurance that this site is, in fact, published by the government since that domain is unavailable to private entities.)
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is little scientific evidence that the health of the vast majority of people with dental amalgam is compromised, nor that removing amalgam fillings has a beneficial effect on health. A 2004 review of the scientific literature conducted for the U.S. Public Health Service found “insufficient evidence of a link between dental mercury and health problems, except in rare instances of allergic reaction.”In September 2006, an advisory panel to the FDA reviewed FDA’s research and heard presentations from the public about the benefits and risks of mercury and amalgam. The panel generally agreed that there is no evidence that dental amalgams cause health problems in the majority of the population. However, the panel did raise concerns about the lack of knowledge concerning the effects of dental amalgam on specific groups, including pregnant women and small children.
This finding may have political impact on the issue, but it has NO scientific relevance since no proactive studies are ever carried out on pregnant women or small children. This is due to the legal liability involved studying these groups. No drug company or scientific body would dare to carry out such studies for fear of devastating law suits. While reading through the physician’s desk reference on drugs, one is struck by the sheer volume of drugs that are not recommended for children or pregnant women due to the lack of scientific documentation regarding their safety in these demographics.
Anti-Amalgamist sites also cite pending legislation in various states and foreign countries to ban the use of amalgam. Note that these pieces of legislation constantly remain pending (some for many, many years) and never are enacted into law. This legislation does not generally survive judicial review (although politicians are often ignorant of the science, and may be taken in by anti-amalgamist arguments). The courts require scientific proof, and there really is no scientific proof that dental amalgam causes any medical problem.
As of 2009, Sweden has introduced a blanket ban on the use of mercury containing products in order to protect the environment. Note that the Swedish ban does not single out dental amalgam, but applies to all medical and industrial uses of mercury. Amalgam is an unfortunate casualty of the ban, not the cause of it. As stated above, mercury in amalgam represents a hazard once it is released into the environment, since it is transformed by vegetation into potentially toxic substances. It does NOT, however, represent a health hazard in the oral cavity.
It has become increasingly obvious that the list of diseases supposedly caused by mercury poisoning due to amalgam has narrowed so drastically that the anti-amalgamists must resort to the use of vague symptoms such as frequent headaches, fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and loss of appetite. These symptoms are extremely common in the population, and can be caused by any number of physical or psychological disturbances. Mainstream scientists have no difficulty demonstrating these facts in a court of law, thus the anti-amalgamists’ arguments are unable to prevail there. Furthermore, since the average amount of mercury consumed daily in ordinary food and water exceeds the amount released by a mouthful of dental amalgams by a factor of at least four, there is no reason to believe that the mercury in amalgam would significantly increase the frequency or severity of these vague symptoms, even if it could be shown that mercury, in general, was responsible for them.
Some anti-amalgamist sites present some pretty impressive looking statistics and references, however, if you actually check out these references, you will discover the following:
Most references cite other anti-amalgamists who, in turn, cite each other in a kind of fictitious round-robin tag team. Never trust any reference to an “eminent” doctor who works for an institution with an impressive sounding name. These people are lone actors and have personal agendas, while the institutions are often just anti-amalgamist constructions. If you actually try to find information on these “respected institutions” (try finding their official websites using a Google search), you will discover that they are NOT associated with any accredited university or the US government. You can research these constructions yourself on the internet.
The statistics they cite are fictitious, or gleaned from the sites of other anti-amalgamists who gleaned them from other anti-amalgamists…etc…etc..
They provide url’s to some statistical sources, but the url’s rarely work if you copy them into your browser’s address bar. The few that actually do work send your browser off to sites which pretend to be authoritative, but are not. Or else they do not cite the statistics implied by the reference. Some even cite fictitious government agencies. Federal agencies have websites ending with a .gov domain. Always check the url in the address bar at the top of the browser. If it is not in the .gov domain, then it is not a true federal agency.
They cite Environmental Protection Agency studies which are not relevant to medical concerns. (EPA studies concern themselves only with protection of the environment. The EPA regulates only the disposal of scrap and waste dental amalgam. It does not regulate the use of dental amalgam.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not assess the actual medical risk of a particular product or material to individuals. Their responsibility lies in assessing the risks posed by a product or material when released into the environment as a whole. Once released into the environment, elemental mercury (such as that found in dental amalgam) may be converted by soil and water bacteria and plants into soluble organic (toxic) forms which could end up in the food or water supply as they did in Minamata Japan. Thus the regulation of the disposal of waste dental amalgam becomes their responsibility. Environmental toxicity of waste amalgam does NOT imply any medical risk to individuals when amalgam is properly used in the repair of peoples’ teeth since there are no organisms in the human mouth able to convert elemental mercury to more toxic forms.
The proper US governmental agency which is tasked with this responsibility is the US Food and Drug Administration–the FDA. The FDA has NOT discovered any reason to withdraw amalgam from the market or to warn the public about its use as it has with tobacco products.)
Finally, for those who wish to find out more about debunking fraudulent websites should definitely read the material on the website of the Media Smarts. An especially good page to check out is one called “Deconstructing Web Pages”