MercolaWatch: Misrepresentation of dental amalgams

Joe Mercola just published another of his articles which presents dental amalgams (silver fillings) as all bad and also calls out “dental review boards” for revoking licensure of dentists who remove amalgams. While ideally we would release no mercury into the atmosphere, dental amalgams remain an effective and (relatively) safe method of restoration of teeth damaged by tooth decay.


In his January 8 article “Disregarding Half of US Dentists and Ignoring the Environment, ADA Shills for Dental Amalgams” (which seems to be a follow-on from a previous article of his discussing some of the same material), Mercola picks a couple of quotes from a WHO report on dental amalgams where they indicate a goal to phase out their use world wide over time. What he of course does not quote are the sections in that same report where the WHO points out that the alternatives to mercury-based amalgams themselves carry risk and are also not as reliable. I may discuss the details of the WHO report in a “Part II”, but in the interests of space I will focus on some other aspects.

ADA, APHA, FDA statements on Dental Amalgams

Much of the article is taken up with lambasting the American Dental Association (ADA) and American Public Health Association (APHA) for releasing a policy statement stating that (at least in the US) dental amalgams are “safe and effective”. Unlike Mercola’s article, the APHA actually cites the studies that demonstrate their point, so I will just link to them and let the reader decide. The ADA (who are apparently the puppet masters for the APHA according to Mercola) also has a policy statement on the use of amalgams. In addition to the APHA, the FDA, in their 2009 reclassification of amalgams as a Class II medical device (which the ADA notes is the same classification as the other composite alternatives to amalgams), states that:

FDA has found that scientific studies using the most reliable methods have shown that dental amalgam exposes adults to amounts of elemental mercury vapor below or approximately equivalent to the protective levels of exposure identified by ATSDR and EPA [ed: intended for pregnant women, those who are sensitive, and children under 6]. Based on these findings and the clinical data, FDA has concluded that exposures to mercury vapor from dental amalgam do not put individuals age six and older at risk for mercury-associated adverse health effects.

Both the ADA and FDA cite the studies that they are basing their statements on. While Mercola has a large disagreement with the US FDA, ADA and APHA, he does not actually bring much in the way of actual evidence to bear in his efforts to refute their policy statements and decisions. The bulk of the WHO report he cites is about world-wide disposal of mercury (and it’s potential entry into the food supply), but this is also addressed by the policy groups above in terms of the US. Additionally, as the WHO report he cites says:

Existing alternative dental materials are not ideal due to limitation in durability, fracture resistance, and wear resistance. Therefore, the meeting recognized the need for strengthening of  research into the long-term performance, possible adverse effects, and viability of  such materials”.

“It may be prudent to consider ‘phasing down’ instead of  ‘phasing out’ of  dental amalgam at this stage. A multi-pronged approach with short-, medium- and longterm strategies should be considered. Alternatives to dental amalgam exist but the quality of  such materials needs to be further improved for use in public health care.”

Dentists losing license for removing fillings?

Also buried in Mercola’s article was a rather remarkable claim that I wanted to discuss for a bit:

At one time they even declared that removing mercury fillings is unethical and many dentists lost their licenses for removing them. The ADA aided and abetted dental boards to yank licenses from dentists who truthfully told patients that amalgam is mainly mercury and who advised against its use.

Now that sounds rather Orwellian on the face of it. But what’s the real story here?

Not too surprisingly, there is no citation or even a name mentioned. However, there is a good chance this is in reference to one Hal Huggins, who lost his dental license for just what Mercola says. Well, for “gross negligence and professional misconduct”. Hal Huggins actually wrote an article for mercola.com in October of 2012, so he clearly has links to Dr. Mercola.

Stephen Barrett’s QuackWatch has some extracts from the 71-page Administrative Law Judge’s ruling posting on Hal Huggins. In short, Huggins had created a dental practice, which at one time included 50 other dentists, which specialised in doing nothing except removing mercury-containing amalgams. The judge’s ruling is a frightening read, and it notes that Huggins was unable to come up with any evidence to even support his claims about the dangers of amalgams (though he claimed to have “thousands” of studies).

Some choice quotes from the decision (emphasis mine):

For the past 22 years, Respondent [Huggins] has limited his practice of dentistry to the diagnosis and treatment of patients he believes are mercury toxic due to the placement in their mouths of dental amalgam filings which contain mercury.

Respondent is the only dentist in the United States who trains other dentists how to treat patients with alleged mercury toxicity due to dental amalgams.

espoused treatment offers to remedy a host of conditions, including tremors, seizures, MS, ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, emotional disturbances, depression, anxiety, unprovoked suicidal thoughts, lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, unexplained heart pains, high and low blood pressure, tachycardia, irregular heartbeat, osteoarthritis, chronic fatigue, “brainfog,” digestive problems, and Crohn’s disease. The sheer breadth and number of these diseases is staggering…. Respondent has taken advantage of the hope of his patients for an easy fix to their medical problems and has used this to develop a lucrative business for himself.

“ Instead of referring patients to physicians who could actually treat their underlying medical diseases and who could make a diagnosis of the mercury toxicity which Respondent suspects, Respondent simply ignores the limits of his qualifications and licensure and proceeds to treat these patients. He subjects patients to a wide array of tests and treatments. which have no clinical justification.”

“Respondent’s encouraging D.A. to believe in her son’s wish that she sell her wheelchair is so out of proportion to any benefit which could be anticipated that it is cruel. The Huggins Center treatment caused actual harm to A.G.’s mouth and gums, as well as her appearance, under circumstances when her prognosis was very poor.”

“Given his steadfast and longstanding commitment to his theories in the face of substantial reasoned evidence to the contrary, it is evident that nothing will stop Respondent from practicing the treatments he has developed short of revocation of his license to practice dentistry. Such disciplinary action is also justified by the multiple violations of the Dental Practice Act proven in this matter, especially those involving grossly negligent care.”

And this is someone that Dr. Mercola is happy to have write articles (dental related!) for his blog. “Conventional” medical professionals are portrayed as being in it purely for the money or in the pockets of “Big Pharma”, for treating the the symptoms rather than the cause, or for generally not caring about their patients. There are no doubt bad apples, as there are in every single walk of life. But those people are properly kicked out of the profession when found out. As portrayed by the judge’s ruling, Huggins epitomized that.

Conclusion

While ideally we would never release any mercury into the environment, the amount released by dental amalgams appears to be relatively negligible versus other sources of mercury. Additionally, amalgams are currently the most cost effective and “proven” of the available methods of filling. Hopefully the research continues into its alternatives to make amalgams actually obsolete, but that has not happened yet. More importantly, there simply is not scientific evidence that mercury-based dental fillings represent a danger to those who have them (regardless of age). One cannot simply associate the dangers of mercury with amalgams and those very few practitioners who have done so and dangerously diagnosed “mercury toxicity” have rightfully lost their license.

REFERENCES
1. American Dental Association. “Statement on Dental Amalgams”. Published August 2009.
2. American Publish Health Association. “Dental Amalgam — Preserving a Proven Dental Material”. Publish October 30, 2012.
3. US FDA. “Summary of Changes to the Classification of Dental Amalgam and Mercury”. Published August 8, 2009.
4. World Health Organization. “Future Use of Materials for Dental Restoration:Report of the meeting convened at WHO HQ, Geneva, Switzerland”. November 2009.
5. Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners. “IN THE MATTER OF THE DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS REGARDING THE LICENSE TO PRACTICE DENTISTRY IN THE STATE OF COLORADO OF HAL A. HUGGINS, D.D.S., LICENSE NO. 3057”. Case No. DE 95-04.

 

 

About Josh DeWald

I am a software engineer, husband and parent of two. I have been involved in the Skeptical movement for a few years now, especially since having children and so needing to fight pseudoscience related to parenting (vaccines, homeopathy, etc). I've been fortunate to attend TAM twice with my wife (who is also of a Skeptical bent). I also have a blog known as "What Does the Science Say?" (whatdoesthesciencesay.wordpress.com), where I have an odd habit of writing a lot about aspartame.
This entry was posted in Conspiracy Theories, Health, Urban Legends and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to MercolaWatch: Misrepresentation of dental amalgams

  1. Wordwizard says:

    It is news to me that there are no other equally good substitutes for mercury/amalgam. After MANY amalgam fillings, and concern for neurological effects (whether they are at all linked or not, I do not know) I now use white (porcelain?) fillings to be on the safe side. When you use the word “cost-effective”, do you include the cost of the chance of toxicity-related health problems?

    • Stephen Propatier says:

      I agree, my dentist utilizes porcelain fillings as well. He feel that there are two benefits. They do not expand and contract as much as amalgam and less tooth cracking. He has used them successfully to avoid a crown where the amalgam filling has produced a crack in the tooth. There is an adhesive benefit. It has saved me from a crown twice. He admits that they are not as durable.

  2. Linda Brocato says:

    My name is Linda Brocato. After many years of health related issues including loosing my eye sight for a few hours accompanied with extreme migraine headaches followed by loss of vision for 1 month. A demylinating disease and diagnosis of MS IN 1981.3 hospitalizations, 8 different medication including chemotherapy for MS. Paralyzed, with 1-3 relapses per year. I was dying. After discovering the silver amalgam fillings contain 50% mercury I had my 16 silver mercury fillings removed in 1990. Since amalgam mercury removal no MS ssymptoms, no relapses, no medication for MS…however I’M STILL IN A WHEELCHAIR!.

    Linda Brocato
    DAMS-IL
    Consumers for Dental Choice, Washington, D.C.

    • Hi, Linda. I’m sorry to hear about the struggles you’ve had with MS. My wife has it, so as you can imagine, I know more about than I’d like to.

      At no point since her diagnosis in 2005 has any neurologist, doctor or dentist suggested she have her fillings removed. Is it possible that your MS symptoms have subsided not because your fillings were removed, but because of any of the other therapies you’ve tried? Or that your MS is in a natural remission phase?

      I wrote about untested treatments for MS for Skeptoid about a month ago. Give it a read if you’d like: http://skeptoid.com/blog/2012/12/17/on-the-fringes-of-ms/

      • Stephen Propatier says:

        Hi Linda I feel for you and my Aunt is severely disabled and in a wheelchair from MS herself. I see through her, how difficult that is. Frustration and failure of science based medicine to cure you make you look for other solutions. That said; I would gently remind you that carefully-designed clinical trials are the best way to determine whether a treatment is safe and effective. Here are the reasons why:

        Because the course of MS is variable, and each person’s symptoms tend to come and go in an unpredictable way, the only way to determine the effectiveness of a treatment is to test it on a large number of people.
        Because most people—regardless of the disease they have—will have a positive response to any new treatment they receive (even if it’s an inactive substance or placebo), the effectiveness of a new treatment can only be proven by comparing it to a placebo or to another treatment that has already been shown to be effective.
        Because every treatment carries with it the risk of anticipated and unanticipated side effects, the only way to evaluate a treatment’s safety is to evaluate it in a large number of people over a sufficient period of time.

        Removal of amalgam fillings—There is no scientific evidence to connect the development or worsening of MS with dental fillings containing mercury, and therefore no reason to have those fillings removed. Although poisoning with heavy metals-such as mercury, lead, or manganese-can damage the nervous system and produce symptoms such as tremor and weakness, the damage is inflicted in a different way than occurs in MS and the process is also different.

        • Linda Brocato says:

          Sorry to reply so late. The Jerome Mercury Vapor Analyzer resulted 53mcg/M3 that is to say it’s 150x more mercury in my body than the EPA allows for the air. I had a genetic test done 2014 that showed 6 mutations. I’m working with a biochemist on methylation and remylation.

    • Wordwizard says:

      Did you have a test to check whether there were detectable levels of mercury in your blood before the removal?

      • Stephen Propatier says:

        No I had detectable levels of pain when I ate due to cracked teeth. Which is why I had them out. It was not covered and I had to pay more but it was a decision I made after the dentist presented the options. $134 filling not covered, 1800.00 crown was covered. Insurance not much logic there.

        • Wordwizard says:

          Actually, I was asking LINDA whether she was tested for mercury poisoning before concluding she had it. First test your blood; then you know!

  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dental_amalgam_controversy

    103 references

    Unlike their two articles on aspartame, which were crippled by years of bitter, polarized controversy, this article had a broad, even-minded, informative quality, citing a bewildering range of evidence, and, I judge, enough troubling research to justify warning everyone that mercury dental amalgams are unsafe, especially in a world where everyone is subject to a huge variety of novel untested substances, making it difficult to determine the toxicity of each substance.

    “In 2001, the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
    of 31,000 adult Americans, NHANES III, covering 1988-94,
    as published by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
    It is statistically valid for all 180,000,000 adult Americans.
    The survey found that the number of dental fillings was significantly correlated to incidence of cancer,
    thyroid conditions,
    mental conditions,
    diseases of the nervous system including MS,
    diseases of the respiratory and genito-urinary systems,
    and disorders of the
    eye,
    circulatory
    and respiratory systems.
    At the time of the survey (1988–94), the vast majority of dental fillings placed were silver amalgam.[37]
    [ 37. NHANES III Screening – 35,000 Americans,
    http://www.flcv.com/NHANES3.html ]
    [ not surprisingly, these same disorders are likely to result from the normal biochemistry of methanol in human tissue — aspartame being the largest new source since its approval for beverages in 1983 ]
    However, the United States FDA, various supreme court judges and others have determined that correlation does not sufficiently demonstrate causation.

    Ten years earlier, unrelated to NHANES III and before the NHANES/Dental Filling correlations, in 1991 the United States Food and Drug Administration concluded that “none of the data presented show a direct hazard to humans from dental amalgams.”[38]
    The Food and Drug Administration in 2008 subsequently issued an advisory warning pregnant women and children about dental amalgam containing mercury, and posted this warning on their website.”

    A medical layman, I became interested in mercury dental amalgams in late 1983 at age 41, and spent many hours in medical libraries, zeroxing studies, for a few years, and later, serving since January 1999 on the Net as a volunteer conscientious information activist for aspartame (methanol, formaldehyde) toxicity, I’ve kept up a cursory monitoring on mercury amalgam, as well as mercury from coal power plants, and fish. I had 7 large amalgams changed to composites in 1984, noticing no more metallic taste in my mouth, less acne, and fewer headaches, and up to now, no direct failure of the composites, although I’ve had some teeth removed due to evolving problems from the prior large amalgams — avoided root canals, and have porceline and one gold crown. I follow a low sugar, low salt, organic low protein, low fat, high complex starches, vegan diet — http://www.drmcdougall.com — since 1999.

    Re multiple sclerosis, the Woodrow C. Monte paradigm gives many lines of evidence that methanol, which circulates in the blood to parts of the body and fetus every minute, is made into formaldehyde inside cells in 19 human tissues that have high levels of the ADH1 enzyme, including the “perivascular loci” of MS lesions and the rods and cones of the retina — the smoke from a pack of cigarettes (and wood and peat smoke) gives the same dose of methanol as a quart of aspartame diet drink, 60 mg, 6 times the usual ingestion.

    http://www.WhileScienceSleeps.com

    http://rmforall.blogspot.com

  4. Benedicti says:

    Great timing Josh!

    This news travels around the world as I write this,
    http://www.istockanalyst.com/business/news/6244713/new-un-treaty-on-mercury-requires-countries-to-phase-down-dental-amalgam-final-text-included-in-this-releases

    In Sweden where I come from mercury fillings have been banned since 2009 – no problem.

    • Josh DeWald says:

      Benedict –
      Timely indeed! Note however that there is no timeline set. This is really just a phase down and “research the alternatives” recommendation. As I read it, only 2 of the items on the list are required, so a nation could just focus on reducing cavities and having better disposal of mercury waste).

      Definitely seems like a good and practical route, but not anything like a ban on amalgams.

      In terms of Sweden, if you check out the WHo report above, it addresses the increase in complaints from the alternative methods now that they are more widespread. So very complex issue!

      Thanks

    • peter says:

      thats because sweden and the other countries value morality and doing what is right over greed and making enormous wealth, this whole amalgam debarkle has shown how ineffective most modern governments are

  5. http://www.bjorklundnutrition.net/2013/01/un-treaty-on-mercury-expected-to-phase-down-amalgam-globally/

    UN treaty on mercury expected to phase down amalgam globally
    January 19, 2013 By admin
    Leave a Comment

    Draws praise from consumer, dental and environmental groups:

    While no dental amalgam phase out date has been set, UN mercury treaty talks are expected to result in the phase down of dental mercury globally, says representatives of consumer and environmental groups attending the negotiations. Amalgam phase down text incorporated in Annex C of Article 6 on products is expected to shortly be transmitted to the Intergovernmental Negotiation Committee plenary for its approval. [1]

    “This is the beginning of the end of dental amalgam globally,” said Michael T. Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, a US-based NGO, who is attending the mercury treaty talks. “We applaud the leadership role the US played in jump-starting support for a phase down in 2011 along with the concrete steps of the Nordic countries, Switzerland and Japan in phasing out amalgam.”

    “Countries that have phased out amalgam recognize that mercury-free dental fillings are readily available, affordable and effective,” said Charles G. Brown, Esq., World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, a global coalition of NGOs, dentists and consumers from over 25 countries. “This pushes the reset button on dentistry. Now the rest of the world can benefit from the experience of those countries.”

    The draft treat text outlines a variety measures countries can take to phase down amalgam, but shall include at least two of the several listed. These include setting national objectives minimizing dental amalgam use; promoting mercury-free alternatives for dental restoration; and discouraging insurance policies and programs that favor dental amalgam over mercuryfree alternative dental restorations.

    Other measures are targeted at reducing global dental mercury pollution and involve restricting amalgam use to its encapsulated form and promoting best environmental practices in dental facilities. It also encourages dental schools to train dentists on using mercury-free alternatives and best management practice.

    Many countries have already been considering similar measures, due to the significant use and release of dental mercury pollution globally. A 2012 report for the European Commission (EC) recommended phasing out amalgam in five years. [2]

    The EC BIOS report also noted that mercury-free fillings appear more expensive than amalgam because of the negative external costs. Amalgam’s negative environmental effects are known and ultimately, society pays for the uncontrolled release of dental mercury, as explained in our 2012 report. [3]

    According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the use of mercury in tooth fillings represents some 10% of global mercury consumption, thus being among the largest consumer uses of mercury in the world. UNEP estimates global use of dental mercury at between 300 – 400 metric tonnes per year. [4]

    Endnotes:
    [1] The Negotiating Process
    [2] European Commission report by BIOS
    [3] Real Cost of Dental Mercury Pollution, by Concorde
    [4] MAP/UNEP 2008. Source: Mercury Policy Project

  6. mud says:

    Thanx for another article on the “Whacky Mercola”. You’d wonder what a nice scare campaign is worth in dollars.

    I doubt if your base level serum heavy metals would be different with amalgam fillings or no.

    There are plenty of papers on amalgam and as discussed elsewhere (and most likely Skeptoid) harvesting customers is definitely market activity.

  7. mud says:

    Josh, are you the same Josh as the fellow Geek?

    I read your aspartame blog and watched the “sweet misery” documentary for the second time. Thank you for drawing my attention to that collection of chemically and physiologically unreliable cherry picking as I needed a refresher on that production.

    Your first pdf certainly nailed it. I would have liked to point out a few additional chemistries but the document stands up well as fair and a good intro into the movie’s “mistaken identity crisis”. The second post covers the EB they present very well.

    I must admit, the first time I was inundated with all the papers (14 years ago) I finally thought that some conspiracy theory finally got it right. Then I read the papers.

    This has stood me in good stead wrt the fructose/glucose twittering and the constantly recycled MSG “land mark” health fears(???).

    Stephen Novella nailed it in public a long time ago. EB is nowhere near as quotable as it appears to be.

    Its rather sad that the “sweet misery” interviewees were cherry picked and only quoted their dubious EBM collections rather than the science of the issue.

    I hope to read your essays for a long time to come.

    Mud

  8. Simon Gonzalez says:

    http://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/DentalProducts/DentalAmalgam/ucm171094.htm
    Approximately 50% of dental amalgam is elemental mercury by weight.

    http://www.epa.gov/hg/dentalamalgam.html#contamination

    Nearly 40 percent of the mercury in the nation’s wastewater system came from dental offices, and mercury discharged from dental offices far exceeded all other commercial and residential sources.

    Also, there is evidence of mercury fillings contributing significantly to the accumulation in the body

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10520544

    There was a significant correlation between body mercury levels and the number of teeth filled with amalgam (controls: r = +0.430, P = 0.006, cases: r = +0.596, P = 0.001).

  9. adansw says:

    Mercury is a heavy metal and After dental imaging researchers have discovered that in many cases it has made some people partially deaf and mentally imbalanced. Strict actions are needed to stop these activities as well as people are also needed to be acknowledged for what they are having and what will be the side effect.
    Very informative and helpful

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi Mike,
    I’ve tried everything regarding treatment for MS, such as diet, exercise, vitamins, and removing the dental amalgam was the only thing that stopped the relapses. I am still relapse free since 1990 and no medications except vitamin supplementation.
    Linda

  11. Through a Jerome Mercury Analyzer the levels were 53 mcg/m3. The brain mapping showed toxicity and degenerative disease. Through Clifford Research the tests showed “fillings may not be suitable or may require concurrent body burden reduction and risk management.”

    • peter says:

      I too have ms like symptoms as a result of mercury fillings ,the only signifigant thing that has happened in my life is I allowed some idiot In white to put metal in my mouth without asking what it was ,prior to that I had perfect health ,now I live in pain with involuntary responses

  12. No, dental amalgam removal stopped the relapses, hospitalizations and MS medications.

  13. Lisa says:

    I had mine out years ago. They were separating from my teeth anyway and needed replacements so we did porcelain instead. My health has not improved. In fact I have gone on to develop rheumatoid arthritis. So tell me what advantage other than not having a cavity, did this bring me? I say its all a lot of baloney.

  14. George says:

    Josh, why don’t you just stick to your software and leave medical and health issues to the experts…I mean, real experts, like Dr Mercola, who’s on the ball…while you are making a complete fool of yourself…what a bad joke you are…

    • The Ball that Mercola is on-is a giant ball of money he has extorted from people with his fear-mongering tripe that deliberately ignores physiology, science, and medicine. They only thing he is an expert in is playing on peoples anxieties, and science knowledge deficits.

  15. George says:

    Josh, What an absolute moron you must be trying to argue the impossible! Mercury, the second most toxic metal on earth after plutonium, becomes inert and harmless once in the mouth…you must be out of your bloody mind. There are thousands of scientific studies linking mercury to just about every illness in a medical dictionary. It’s not safe at any level. I wonder if you were mercury-brain-damaged too even before born…do you know?

  16. George says:

    Serial measurements of intraoral air mercury estimation of daily dose from dental amalgam.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3860539

    • Abstract
    J Dent Res. 1985 Aug;64(8):1072-5.
    Serial measurements of intra-oral air mercury: estimation of daily dose from dental amalgam.
    Vimy MJ, Lorscheider FL.
    Abstract
    Serial measurements of Hg concentration in intra-oral air were made during and after chewing stimulation in 35 subjects with occlusal amalgam restorations.
    Hg concentrations remained elevated during 30 min of continuous chewing and declined slowly over 90 min after cessation of chewing.
    By curve-fitting and integration analysis of data during these time periods (including corrections for respiratory volume, retention rate of inspired Hg, oral-to-nasal breathing ratios, and consumption of three meals and three snacks per day), we calculated that all subjects received an average daily Hg dose of approximately 20 micrograms.
    Subjects with 12 or more occlusal amalgam surfaces were estimated to receive a daily Hg dose of 29 micrograms, whereas in subjects with four or fewer occlusal amalgam surfaces, the dose was 8 micrograms. These Hg dosages from dental amalgam were as much as 18-fold the allowable daily limits established by some countries for Hg exposure from all sources in the environment. The results demonstrate that the amount of elemental Hg released from dental amalgam exceeds or comprises a major percentage of internationally accepted threshold limit values for environmental Hg exposure. It is concluded that dental amalgam Hg makes a major contribution to total daily dose.
    PMID:
    3860539
    [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

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