Cosmopolitan Magazine asked Hout Bay Dental Studio to answer a few questions about the use of mercury amalgam fillings for an article they published a while back. As many of our patients have concerns about the use of mercury amalgam fillings in terms of their general health and raise these queries too, this is what we had to say:

Question: Why is mercury so dangerous to the human body?

Answer: Mercury is a powerful metabolic poison, which means that it can damage any cell or tissue in the body, as well as numerous enzymes and hormones. Mercury that has been absorbed in the bloodstream is stored in the body organs, like the kidneys, leather, nerve tissue (brain) and in the gastrointestinal tract. Once present in the organs, mercury may damage individual cells, preventing them from functioning normally. This affects the efficiency of the organs and disrupts your body's normal biochemistry and physiology.

Question: Can you always see the immediate effect of mercury poisoning on the body?

Answer: The time it takes for the first signs of mercury poisoning to appear is dependent on a variety of factors. These include the forms of mercury, the volume of exposure, the route it was exposed through, and each individual's unique response. The exposure to dental mercury is a chronic, accumulative form, and unfortunately, it can take many years before a person starts recognising the symptoms.

Question: How does the mercury get into your system?

Answer: When chewing or grinding, mercury is released in the form of mercury vapour. Much of this vapour can then be inhaled. Once in the lungs, the vapour is absorbed into the bloodstream and distributed throughout the body. Some of the released mercury can also be dissolved in the saliva from where it can be swallowed or absorbed through the mouth's soft tissues. Mercury can also come from external sources such as environmental pollution and dietary intake.

Question: What are the signs and symptoms of mercury exposure?

Answer: Symptoms related to mercury poisoning are vast and can vary greatly between individuals. Some common symptoms include:

  • Depression, fatigue, moodiness, inability to concentrate, anxiety
  • Nausea and diarrhoea, loss of appetite, digestive problems
  • Irregular heartbeat, change in blood pressure, pain in the chest
  • Swollen glands and tongue, ulcerations of the oral mucosa, bad breath

Question: If you have mercury fillings and are concerned, should you have them replaced?

Answer: The best thing to do is become well informed. At present, no one can conclusively prove or disprove whether or not you should have your dental fillings replaced. Unfortunately, the obvious symptoms of mercury damage may take a long time to become noticeable.
Speak to your dentist. Listen and read. Evaluate the credibility of the information you receive. The decision is yours alone.

Question: Once you've had them removed, do you need to have a mercury detox to clear your body of traces?

Answer: Because people differ in their expression of symptoms, there is no hard and fast rule regarding the need to go for detoxification. Some people find their symptoms warrant the need to follow a comprehensive detoxification program using chelating agents. (These bind to the blood-borne mercury and that which is trapped in the tissues). Others feel happy using milder supplements like Chlorella. If you would like to use any of these products, it is advised that you contact a toxicologist that is experienced in amalgam-related treatments.

Question: What are the alternatives to mercury fillings?

Answer: Composite (reinforced resin plastic) fillings are a great alternative to amalgam, and if placed correctly are very effective and long-lasting. In some cases, if it is a large filling or there are cracks in the tooth, a stronger porcelain material may be used. 
Try to find a dentist who is experienced and knowledgeable in this area; one that has been 'mercury-free' for some time. They will be able to advise you on your own needs.