The fact that mercury is toxic to human beings has never been in question. That fact that silver fillings containing mercury have been used safely in human beings for 150 years should also not be in question. Even so, patients concerned about mercury fillings leaking symptoms are asking dentists and the internet what to watch out for.
Mercury, like water, can exist in many forms and is naturally present in the Earth's crust. The majority of environmental mercury pollution comes from industrial activities, such as mining and burning fossil fuels, notes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Traces of the heavy metal first spread into the atmosphere and then into the groundwater when it rains, ultimately reaching streams, lakes and finally the ocean. Mercury can then become concentrated in the bodies of fish and eventually be ingested by people.
Although extremely rare, mercury poisoning is marked by symptoms like vomiting, bleeding gums, tremors, double vision and memory problems, according to the National Institutes of Health. It often takes years of exposure to take effect.
What Are Amalgam Fillings?
In dentistry, mercury is mixed with silver, tin and zinc to form metal amalgam fillings. Reported mercury fillings leaking symptoms may include:
- Bleeding gums
- Mouth ulcers
- Metallic taste
- Excessive salivation
- Alterations in taste
- Burning, red or inflamed tissues
- Periodontal disease
However, any of these symptoms are more likely to be from other oral conditions. Mouth ulcers can be a symptom of certain gastrointestinal disorders, for example, while a metallic taste can come from vitamin supplements or a sinus infection.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed above and do suspect mercury toxicity, consult your dentist and doctor. They can provide a definitive diagnosis and treatment if necessary.
Mercury Fillings Leaking Symptoms
When a dentist tells you have a worn or leaking silver filling, they are referring not to the filling leaching mercury but to a breakdown at the interface of the filling with the natural tooth structure. A deteriorated filling allows bacteria to get into the space between the tooth and the filling, creating the potential for the spread of decay. This is why you should call your dentist immediately if a filling chips or falls out. A broken filling can usually be easily replaced, either with another silver filling or a mercury-free resin filling.
The Case for Silver Filling Safety
No significant amount of mercury has been shown to "leak" from silver fillings. In fact, when the American Dental Associationre-examined an earlier amalgam safety study by the Life Science Research Office, the organization concluded that there was no association between mercury-containing fillings and any of the following purported risks:
- Nerve problems or neurotoxic effects
- Parkinson's disease
- Kidney disease
- Cognitive problems
- Developmental delays
- Complications from mercury transferred in breast milk
- Behavioral problems in children
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also maintains the position that metal fillings are safe for adults and children older than 6 years.
However, amalgam fillings are being phased out in many places for environmental reasons. The British Dental Associationreports that the international Minamata Convention on mercury aims to slowly end the production of mercury-containing fillings in the European Union to balance concerns over pollution caused by their manufacture with "the public health benefits of dental amalgam."
The Best Fillings Are No Fillings at All
The worst part about getting a filling isn't the material it's made of: it's the cavity! Brushing twice daily and flossing regularly can help prevent tooth decay in the first place. If you do need any kind of dental work, talk to your dentist. Whether you choose amalgam fillings or tooth-colored composite fillings, your dentist is the best person to go to with questions about their safety and efficacy.