Is NYU Dental School Going ‘Amalgam-Free’?
August 14, 2012
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By Dr. Mercola
Research from universities and even the World Health Organization (WHO) have made it very clear that mercury-based amalgam fillings are far more toxic, to people and to the environment, than alternatives like resin composites.
As such, you would think that all dental schools would be adopting policies to reflect these findings in their teachings.
We are not there yet, but one forward-thinking school – New York University College of Dentistry – has set the ball rolling by making some much-needed changes to their amalgam policy.
NYU Dental School Nixes Mercury as the Go-To Filling Material of Choice
About half of the dentists in the United States still rely on mercury fillings in their practices, and many dental schools still teach it as the material of choice, churning out a new generation of dentists who will be behind the times in believing the archaic practice of using mercury in people's teeth is the best form of care.
Fortunately, graduates from the New York University College of Dentistry will not be among them, thanks to a smart policy change that the faculty recently revealed in a letter to students. The letter, which acknowledged that amalgam restorations have been the status quo of dentistry for nearly 150 years, cited a stand by the United Nations Environmental Program, which proposes phasing out the use of mercury-containing products including amalgam.
Environmental studies also show that a huge mercury load in the world's waterways, including in America, come from dental offices, the letter added. Considering these and other issues, the college has decided to take the initiative and teach students other ways to take care of patients' teeth, noting ""all treatment plans should consider alternative restorative materials other than amalgam."
While the school is not going completely mercury-free, and will still teach students amalgam preparation design and placement, they have changed the default restoration material to composite – NOT amalgam – a very large step in the right direction. The letter also mentioned:
- While amalgam will still be available, students must receive justification by faculty for placement.
- While students will still receive training in the use of amalgam, they will be taught to pay special attention to the indications and contraindications.
- Strict mercury hygiene when using amalgam will be maintained in both the clinic and preclinical settings.
Why Aren't More Dental Schools Keeping Up With the Science?
Considering the wealth of information we have about the impacts of mercury fillings, it's high time all dental schools started favoring the safer alternative methods available. This may be a radical departure from the status quo, but it's one that's soundly supported by numerous authorities:
- A report from the Health Care Research Collaborative has ruled that the impacts of mercury in dental fillings on human health and the environment far outweigh those posed by safer alternative materials1
- In its final report on dental amalgam, WHO also took a stance against the use of mercury in dentistry, urging "a switch in use of dental materials" away from amalgam"2
WHO noted the following three reasons for the new position:
- Amalgam releases a "significant amount of mercury" into the environment, including the atmosphere, surface water, groundwater, and soil. WHO reported:
"When released from dental amalgam use into the environment through these pathways, mercury is transported globally and deposited. Mercury releases may then enter the human food chain especially via fish consumption."
- WHO determines that amalgam raises "general health concerns": While the report acknowledged that a few dental trade groups still believe amalgam is safe for all, the WHO report reached a very different conclusion: "Amalgam has been associated with general health concerns." The report observed:
"According to the Norwegian Dental Biomaterials Adverse Reaction Unit, the majority of cases of side-effects of dental filling materials are linked with dental amalgam."
- WHO concluded "materials alternative to dental amalgam are available" and cited studies indicating they are superior to amalgam. For example, WHO said "recent data suggest that RBCs [resin-based composites] perform equally well" as amalgam. And compomers have a higher survival rate, says WHO, citing a study finding that 95% of compomers and 92% of amalgams survive after 4 years.
In particular, WHO explained that "Alternative restorative materials of sufficient quality are available for use in the deciduous [baby] dentition of children" – the population whose developing neurological systems are most susceptible to the neurotoxic effects of dental mercury. Perhaps more important than the survival of the filling, WHO asserted that:
"Adhesive resin materials allow for less tooth destruction and, as a result, a longer survival of the tooth itself."
The report also included mention of the known toxic effects of mercury exposure, stating:
"Mercury is highly toxic and harmful to health. Approximately 80% of inhaled mercury vapor is absorbed in the blood through the lungs, causing damages to lungs, kidneys and the nervous, digestive, respiratory and immune systems. Health effects from excessive mercury exposure include tremors, impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, insomnia, emotional instability, developmental deficits during fetal development, and attention deficit and developmental delays during childhood."
European Commission Recommends Eliminating Amalgams from Europe
In addition to the World Health Organization, a recent report created by the BIO Intelligence Service (BIO) for the European Commission3 recommends phasing out dental amalgam and mercury in button cell batteries by 2018 in order to protect the environment from continued devastating harm. According to the authors, dental amalgam is "a significant contributor to overall EU environmental emissions of mercury from human activities." The situation is identical in the US.
According to the report:4
"The current levels of mercury pollution in the EU are such that all the EU population is exposed to mercury above the natural background level and certain population groups such as high-level fish consumers, women of childbearing age and children are subject to high risk levels, principally due to their high exposure and/or high vulnerability to mercury in the form of methylmercury, which is ingested through the diet.
This presents a risk of negative impacts on health, in particular affecting the nervous system and diminishing intellectual capacity.
There are also environmental risks, for example the disturbance of microbiological activity in soils and harm to wildlife populations. The effects of mercury releases on the integrity of the ecosystem are substantial. Various species, especially eagles, loons, kingfishers, ospreys, ibises, river otters, mink and others that rely on fish for a large part of their diet, have been observed to suffer adverse health and/or behavioral effects.
Observed disorders such as effects on the muscles and nervous system, reduced or altered mating habits, ability to reproduce, raise offspring, catch food and avoid predators have been demonstrated to affect individual animal viability and overall population stability.
According to calculations based on the critical load concept, more than 70 percent of the European ecosystem area is estimated to be at risk today due to mercury, with critical loads of mercury exceeded in large parts of western, central and southern Europe."
Mercury Fillings No Longer Make Sense
The fact is, amalgam is the most expensive dental material when you count environmental costs and clean-up costs. It is also the number one cause of mercury exposure for consumers, according to the Canadian government and other sources. And mercury from dental offices is the largest source of mercury in wastewater.
Modern materials like resin composites and glass ionomers have rendered amalgam completely unnecessary for any clinical situation. In fact, the mercury-free alternatives are so advanced that entire nations, such as the Scandinavian countries, have begun to favor them in lieu of amalgam altogether. It's high time that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the dental schools in charge of educating young dentists start acknowledging these facts and get on the bandwagon to at least protect those most vulnerable to damage from mercury fillings -- children and pregnant women.
There is overwhelming evidence showing mercury is easily released in the form of vapor each time you eat, drink, brush your teeth or otherwise stimulate your teeth.
These mercury vapors readily pass through your cell membranes, across your blood-brain barrier, and into your central nervous system, where it can cause psychological, neurological, and immunological problems. In the United States, children and pregnant women continue to have their health and the health of future generations put at risk because the FDA is failing to protect them by not even making sure dentists inform women and parents of the risks (and the fact that "silver" fillings contain mercury) before they are placed.
Important Information Regarding Amalgam Removal
For those of you who have mercury fillings, I recommend that you have them removed … but avoid making the mistake I did nearly 20 years ago by having it done by a non-biological dentist. When you have these fillings removed you can be exposed to significant amounts of mercury vapors if the dentist doesn't know what he or she is doing. It's also for this reason that I strongly suggest you get healthy BEFORE having your fillings removed, as you want your detoxification mechanisms optimized prior to removal.
My struggles with my own dental health led me to learn about and embrace biological dentistry, also known as holistic or environmental dentistry. In a nutshell, biological dentistry views your teeth and gums as an integrated part of your entire body, and any medical treatments performed takes this fact into account.
The primary aim of holistic dentistry is to resolve your dental problems while working in harmony with the rest of your body. Biological dentists are well aware of the dangers involved with toxic materials such as mercury fillings (aka amalgams). Some things that need to be done to keep you (and your dentist) safe during amalgam removal include:
- Providing you with an alternative air source and instructing you not to breathe through your mouth
- Using a cold-water spray to minimize mercury vapors
- Putting a rubber dam in your mouth so you don't swallow or inhale any toxins
- Using a high-volume evacuator near the tooth at all times to evacuate the mercury vapor
- Washing your mouth out immediately after the fillings have been removed (the dentist should also change gloves after the removal)
- Immediately cleaning your protective wear and face once the fillings are removed
- Using room air purifiers
How to Find a Qualified Biological Dentist
Knowledgeable biological dentists can be hard to come by, so start your search by asking a friend, relative, neighbor, or inquire at your local health food store. The following links can also help you to find a mercury-free, biological dentist: