June 5, 2008

Mercury In Dental Fillings Harmful

Mercury-containing teeth fillings could pose a threat to the health of pregnant mothers, children and fetuses, according to a report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The report came in the wake of a recently settled lawsuit with several consumer advocacy groups. The FDA responded with a commitment to alert consumers about the potential risks on its website and to issue a more specific rule next year for fillings that contain mercury, FDA spokeswoman Peper Long said.

The FDA must issue the new rules in July 2009, Long said.

"Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses," the FDA said in a notice on its Web site.

Mercury concentration in dental amalgams is generally about 50 percent by weight, while the silver concentration ranges from 20-35 percent, according to the FDA.

The FDA also noted that there are safer alternatives to silver fillings such as those made from powdered glass and resin compounds or glass ionomer cement.

Only 30 percent of fillings given to patients were mercury-filled ones as of 2003, according to the American Dental Association (ADA).

Still the FDA said it does not recommend that people who already have silver fillings should have them removed.

"FDA is engaged in a rulemaking that may lead to revised labeling," its website reads. "It is also reviewing evidence about safe use, particularly in sensitive subpopulations."

However, "Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner," the agency said.

The lawsuit settlement was reached on Monday with several advocacy groups, including Moms Against Mercury, which had sought to have mercury fillings removed from the U.S. market.

Mercury has been linked to brain and kidney damage at certain levels. Amalgams contain half mercury and half a combination of other metals.

Charles Brown, a lawyer for one of the groups called Consumers for Dental Choice, said the agency's move represented an about-face. "Gone, gone, gone are all of FDA's claims that no science exists that amalgam is unsafe," he said in a statement.

J.P. Morgan Securities Inc. analyst Ipsita Smolinski said the FDA is not likely to outright ban the fillings next year but will probably call for restrictions.

"We do believe that the agency will ask for the label to indicate that mercury is an ingredient in the filling, and that special populations should be exempt from such fillings, such as: nursing women, pregnant women, young children, and immunocompromised individuals," Smolinski wrote in a research note on Wednesday.


On the Net:

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

American Dental Association