At some point in our lives, usually starting in childhood, many of us developed cavities in our teeth that needed to be filled. As children we naturally trusted that our parents knew best when they sent us to the dentist to have our cavities taken care of, and our parents in turn trusted that the dentist was doing what was right and necessary to maintain our dental health. The fact that the fillings, known as mercury amalgam, were comprised of 50% mercury, a potent neurotoxin, never seemed to be an issue. The fillings were safe, inquiring parents were told, in their amalgam state, that is combined with copper, tin and silver. Curiously, a poison when outside our mouths, so much so that the dentist would not even touch the amalgam with his or her own gloved hands and disposed of it as hazardous waste, yet completely safe and virtually inert when in our mouths. Or so we were told…

Mercury amalgam was introduced to North America in the early 1800's from Europe and used for a short period of time, but relatively soon after in the 1840's North American dentistry turned away from its use largely due to concerns about the toxic nature of mercury. In fact, as a requirement of membership in the American Society of Dental Surgeons, members had to sign a document that stated they would not use mercury amalgam in their practice. However, this progressive, health-oriented stance was to be short-lived. In 1859 the organization we now know as the American Dental Association was formed and chose to endorse the use of mercury amalgam, declaring it safe for use in the human body. This puzzling about-turn became less so when it was revealed some years later that some members of the ADA held patents on the mercury amalgam ‘recipe'.

Thus, in the last century and a half, due to the widespread acceptance and use of mercury amalgams, a massive experiment of sorts has been underway; that is, how does long term mercury exposure affect the human body? No one has ever actually agreed to be part of this experiment, but nevertheless it continues. In the mid 1970's the US Federal Drug Administration (now the Food and Drug Administration) reaffirmed the safety of amalgam fillings by categorizing them as “generally recognized as safe”, largely because they had been in use for over a century. However, this confidence in their safety was shaken when research began to surface in the 1980's showing that mercury vapour is released from amalgam fillings each time an individual chews, drinks hot liquids or brushes amalgam filled teeth. This disturbing evidence was given more weight when human autopsies revealed that there was a direct relationship between the mercury content in brain and kidney tissue and the mercury content in teeth. Could our trusted childhood dentist have been wrong all these years?

Mercury poisoning or toxicity is best described as a polysymptomatic health issue; the symptoms are multiple and many can be classified as symptoms of other health problems or diseases. This coupled with the fact that both the Canadian and American Dental Associations still refuse to state that mercury amalgams are dangerous to human health, is no doubt resulting in the misdiagnosis of many people who are actually suffering from mercury poisoning and who sadly may never actually receive appropriate treatment because of this. Some of the most common symptoms of mercury poisoning are: fatigue, dizziness, depression, headaches, digestive problems, skin rashes, fine tremors, vision problems, hair loss, chronic yeast infections (i.e. vaginal, athlete's foot, nail fungus, jock itch), under active thyroid, memory loss, anxiety, angry outbursts, heartbeat irregularities, multiple sclerosis and immune system disorders. It is still unclear as to why some individuals with mercury amalgams never develop any obvious symptoms of toxicity while others may develop symptoms as early as their teens. The most likely explanation is that some people's bodies are simply better at excreting mercury on an ongoing basis, while others seem to reach a saturation point where they begin to exhibit symptoms.

If you are among the thousands of Canadians that have mercury amalgams and you see yourself in the above symptoms, what can you do? Ideally, your first step is to have a hair or urine analysis done to assess your body burden of mercury; this can be done through a medical doctor however, if you encounter resistance a naturopathic doctor can assist you with this. If you choose to have your amalgams removed and replaced with safer material (usually composite resin) it is vitally important that you have this done by a biological dentist as they will use the proper protocols to minimize your mercury exposure during the procedure. Unlike in years past, many extended health insurance plans now cover mercury amalgam replacement making it possible for more people to recover their health. After amalgam removal it is very important to use some form of oral or intravenous chelation therapy to help remove any mercury that may have been released into your body during the procedure.

Some biological dentists and naturopathic doctors offer intravenous chelation services or you may choose to use oral chelation which involves taking herbal and nutritional supplements that bind to mercury and allow the body to more easily excrete it. The herb cilantro and the blue-green algae chlorella, when taken together, have shown excellent results in removing mercury from the body and are an affordable, non-invasive method of chelation. Other helpful supplements are glutathione, the B vitamin complex, vitamin C, zinc, selenium, MSM and n-acetyl-cysteine. The book Dental Mercury Detox by Ziff, Ziff and Hanson is a very comprehensive resource that guides the individual through all stages of mercury amalgam removal and detoxification. Once all amalgams have been removed some symptoms of toxicity may begin to clear up in as little as 3 months however, others may take much longer. Be patient, detoxification of mercury is not an overnight process.

As natural medicine regains popularity and people become better informed about their health and how to maintain it, it becomes very obvious that an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure. We can best achieve this by spreading the word; telling our family and friends that mercury is a poison, pure and simple, and should never be put into the human body. Above all else, we should prevent the poisoning of future generations and never allow it to be put into any child's mouth to begin with!

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