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Are Mercury Fillings Really that Bad?

Mercury is a highly toxic metal that can be extremely damaging to your body and health.

This metal is released into the air via power plants and industrial facilities and can even be found in certain fish, thermostats, and light switches.

Mercury has been used for decades to fill cavities and prevent tooth, nerve and bone decay.

Even though dentists have been using mercury fillings for many years, some are now beginning to wonder if they are safe.

Dr. Robert Gregg joins Dr. Mike to discuss mercury fillings and if they are safe to use or not.
Are Mercury Fillings Really that Bad?
Featured Speaker:
Robert GreggDr. Robert Gregg is a former faculty member at UCLA School of Dentistry, Section of Hospital Dentistry.

He has been using lasers clinically since August 1990, including CO2, free-running pulsed (FRP) Nd:YAG, both single- and variable-pulsed; FRP Ho:YAG, surgical Argon, CW Diodes, and Er:YAG. He has given lectures nationally and internationally on the subject of clinical laser applications.

Dr. Gregg is a co-developer of the FDA-cleared PerioLase® MVP-7™ pulsed Nd:YAG laser, and is a co-developer and patent holder of the LANAP® laser periodontitis treatment. He maintains a group private practice where he sees patients.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: June 17, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

Living longer, and staying healthier. It's Healthy Talk with Dr. Michael Smith MD. Here's your host, Dr. Mike.

DR. MIKE: Are mercury fillings really that bad? My guest is Dr. Robert Gregg. He's the President and Chairman of the Board of Millennium Dental Technologies. He's a former faculty member at UCLA, School of Dentistry. He's been using lasers clinically since the 1990s; he's given lectures on how to use laser treatments for your gums and teeth all over the world. Dr. Gregg is also the co-developer and patent holder of the LANAP laser periodontitis treatment.

Dr. Gregg, welcome to Healthy Talk.

DR. GREGG: Thank you, it's nice to be with you.

DR. MIKE: Sorry about that. I stumbled through a lot of your introduction there. We were on before and we talked about the lasers that you use, we talked about gum disease, all that kind of stuff, and I do have some follow-ups on that past interview. But I want to focus – I brought you on again because I thought you were a great guest – and I wanted to talk about mercury fillings with you. I found a site, Dr. Gregg, here that kind of went through the history of mercury as a filling for teeth and cavities, and it looks like – and I didn't know this – it was first used in the United States way back in the 1830's. Can you just give us a little bit of history about mercury in dentistry?

DR. GREGG: Well, it goes back all the way to the Ming Dynasty in 600 AD. It was used in Germany in 1500. It's a simple composition of quicksilver, or mercury, and silver powder. So, you mix those two together and they form a solid, which is really quite an interesting property. It's easy to put in the mouth; just about anybody could put it in.

It's like wood spackle for the walls; it's a pasty type substance when you put it in, and then it hardens. It doesn't get any easier than that. So, even midlevel providers are being advocated to place it because there's no real skill involved. I talk to patients at Civil War Dentistry about why are we doing that sort of dentistry in the age of resins, ceramics, bonding, and hi-tech dentistry.

DR. MIKE: Looking at the history, even when it was first used in the United States in the 1800's, there was some concern about it back then, true?

DR. GREGG: Sure. Mercury is a known neurotoxin, and there's always a concern about what happens to that mercury as the amalgam is setting up, because it isn't an instant set; it does take a few minutes for that to set up. There is now some evidence-- even on the FDA's website it talks about the release of mercury vapor in the mouth during chewing, drinking carbonated beverages, tooth grinding at night, and the like.

DR. MIKE: If the mercury – obviously, we know, as you said it's a neurotoxin – what are some of the other health consequences of mercury in your system?

DR. GREGG: Well, neurotoxins affect the liver, the kidney, brain, and they can cause MS type symptoms like shaking, tremors if you get a high level. I don't think we're talking about that high level with silver mercury fillings.

I think we're talking about whether or not it affects the immune system. I've seen that the localized immune response with tissues that turn fire red in the presence of amalgam touching the tissue or near the tissue. As soon as you remove and replace the amalgam tissue, that fire red tissue goes away. Other people are just very sensitive to chemicals in the environment, and I replace them on doctor's orders, if you will, because of a patient's compromised immune system. So, anything that challenges the immune system.

Some of the other interesting things that never get talked about is that silver is a metallic substance-- or mercury fillings are a metallic substance. They interact with saliva and other metals in the mouth, like gold, and you create a galvanic current. Now galvanism has other problems, again in sensitive people. I've worked with Chinese doctors who tell me that it affects the meridians in the body if they have this low-grade electrical current where it's not supposed to be. There's also the issue of galvanic decay underneath a crown.

So, you have a silver filling that was once there, you prep the tooth for a crown, you leave some silver behind, and then you put a gold crown on or a gold crown with a porcelain overlay, and that actually starts an electrical current that can cause decay underneath the crown. That's another concern.

There's a saying – it's an inside joke with dentists – that silver fillings grow up to be crowns. Now, say that to any dentist and you'll get a smile. He or she knows exactly what you're talking about.

But the scary thing is, when I got out of school in the mid 80's, I never was told that silver fillings break teeth. That's what kept me in business my first five years. Silver fillings fracture cusps; they split the teeth into two; they split the teeth into the pulp chambers, so we have to do root canals. If you want to have an annuity in a dental practice, just put a lot of silver fillings in because you'll be doing business ten, twenty years down the road. Nothing else breaks teeth like silver fillings.

DR. MIKE: Wow. Interesting. When I was telling a friend of mine, Dr. Gregg, that you were going to come on and we were going to talk about mercury, she was really interested in this. She's had fillings before and she asked me an interesting question. She said, "How do I know if the fillings I have are mercury fillings?" I guess a lot of times when fillings are placed in, dentists aren't telling the patients exactly what they're using. So, how does somebody know if they actually have a mercury filling?

DR. GREGG: One survey said 72 percent of the US did not know silver fillings contained mercury, and 92 percent would like to know if they were going to have those silver fillings or mercury fillings when they were placed. So, clearly there's not a lot of informed consent going on with silver filling with placement.

But how do you know? They look like something gray in the tooth. They're a metallic gray. There's rarely anything else that we put in the teeth that has that color. So, if it's gray, it's probably silver filling. But the other thing is, you don't know if you've got a white filling, that there might be some silver filling underneath, unless the doctor says, "Hey, I removed all of the metal content in that tooth, then I placed the white filling."

DR. MIKE: I do want to get into – well, probably we'll have to move that over into the next segment talking about what are some of the alternatives. What do you like to use, Dr. Gregg, in these cases? So, how prevalent is this? If we have decided that maybe mercury fillings aren't the best thing for people and that type of message is getting out there, I think more and more people are going to be going to their dentist one, wondering if they have mercury fillings, and two, if they do, wanting them removed. I mean, are we talking about a significant number of people here?

DR. GREGG: Oh, my gosh, yes. Yeah, we're talking about 70 percent of the population has silver fillings. For decades, and even longer than that, it's been the primary restoration for the dental community. It's only recently within the last 30 years that we've come out with some ceramics, some plastic white fillings, bonded; those are more technique sensitive and they require more skill and training to place, and they're more expensive. That's the pushback and it's understandable. If you can place something on a tooth that restores the tooth versus just fills it, you're investment over time is going to be that much greater.

You're not going to have the toxicity effects, the allergic effects, the fracture problem, root decay, a lot of these ceramics have fluoride in them in small amounts. There are other options out there; they just have to go to the dentist and have a conversation.

DR. MIKE: Well, let me ask you this, Dr. Gregg. If somebody, let's say they have mercury fillings and they've been in their mouth for 40, 50, 60 years, and they don't seem to have any problems, do they have to go have them removed? Would you still suggest that?

DR. GREGG: No, I wouldn't say do a wholesale replacement. But I have told patients that there's not a single silver filling I've taken out of a tooth that didn't have at least one and, depending on how many decades, many multiple fractures in the tooth. And that's not good for the tooth. A lot of people don't realize silver fillings and mercury fillings leech metal sulfide out into the tooth.

DR. MIKE: You know, Dr. Gregg, let's leave it there. This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.