open your mouth wide and grab a mirror. If you see a silvery glint, then you're carrying around a secret cache of mercury in your cavities. Modern dentisty has left many of us with an alloy of 50 per cent mercury, silver, tin, copper and zinc in our sensitive oral area, and depending on who you talk to, this could be a hazard.
Mercury is highly toxic to the nervous system, immune system, kidneys and cardiovascular system. It has the potential to disrupt the workings of almost all body proteins. It accumulates in the body and can't be excreted as fast as it's absorbed.
Conventional health practitioners and scientists have now come around to admitting that amalgam releases mercury vapours into the mouth on a constant basis.
But what no one can agree on is whether there is a safe level for these emissions, and if so, what it is.
Holistic types generally take a more conservative approach, believing any level of poison is too much. Some practitioners even blame amalgam for chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and the vaguely defined multi-symptomatic illnesses increasingly common today. And anecdotes of miraculous healing due to the removal of mercury abound, though there are no supporting studies.
Nowadays we've got choices, even if we know little about them. Many dentists don't like to use the old amalgams and will offer alternatives. Ceramics are considered least toxic by holistic types.
The new white fillings contain plastic, and might emit a potential hormone-disrupting chemical called Bisphenol-A. Ask your dentist for a filling ingredient list if you want to avoid possible exposure.
Alt-type dentists might also send you to a practitioner who tests your biocompatibility with various materials.
Mainstream dentists say there's no proof these tests work. If you want to get your mercury fillings replaced, use a dentist who's experienced -- improperly done amalgam removal can expose you to a high dose of mercury. Don't do it if you're pregnant or breast-feeding.
what the experts say
"All the tests (for toxicity) are flawed. If we see some evidence of elevated mercury in someone, we have to discover whether that mercury is actually affecting them. Some people aren't affected by mercury. If a person is asymptomatic, I wouldn't get aggressive with it. (To lessen toxicity), use selenium (200 mcg twice daily), foods high in sulphur, garlic, onions, cooked beans, eggs and vitamins C and E. Should people remove their fillings? Depends on the individual."
ZOLTON RONA, holistic medical doctor
"If the priority is to put in a filling that will last 30 or 40 years, amalgam is the right material. But if the concern is the health of the person, not just of the tooth, then other considerations, like potential toxicity, become a concern. I don't want to have on my conscience the placement of a material that's leaching mercury all the time."
GARY FORTINSKY, dentist, homeopath"I don't do mercury amalgam, but I would be hard pressed to recommend against it based on the science. There's no question organic mercury is toxic. But no one's yet been able to even make a suggestion using well designed science that amalgam causes problems, despite years and years of research. A few cases of allergy have been reported."
MICHAEL CASAS, dentist"(To test a person's compatibility to dental materials) we use an instrument that measures skin resistance related to a meridian connected to a particular tooth. When you get amalgam removed, use chlorella, up to 10 grams daily of vitamin C, fresh cilantro and alpha-lipoic acid."
ALEKS RADOJCIC, dental materials biocompatibility tester"The scientific consensus is that amalgam doesn't contribute to illness in the vast majority of the population. Decisions about which material to use are best made by an informed discussion between patient and dentist."
ROBERT SUTHERLAND, periodontist, president-elect of the Ontario Dental Association"Based on the current research, dental amalgam poses no risk to the general public. We recommend it not be used in people allergic to mercury, those with impaired kidney function or in contact with braces. Amalgam fillings should not be placed in or removed from the teeth of pregnant women, and alternatives should be considered for youth and children."
RYAN BAKER, Health Canada