July 29, 2009

FDA: Mercury-laced dental fillings safe

Silver dental fillings containing mercury are safe for adults and children over age 6, except for people with mercury allergies, a U.S. regulatory agency said.

Still, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time classified the fillings as a Class II, or moderate risk, medical device.

The move lets the agency impose tighter safety controls, the FDA said.

These new controls included in the FDA's final regulation of the fillings include a statement of the risks of inhaling mercury vapor and a warning that dental professionals use adequate ventilation when handling dental amalgam, the FDA said.

Dental amalgam is the scientific term for a silver filling, which is actually made of liquid mercury and a powdered alloy.

The mercury and the alloy previously were classified separately. The mercury component was considered a Class I low risk, the FDA said.

Still, the agency concluded that after reviewing more than 200 scientific studies, the mercury levels released by dental amalgam fillings were not high enough to cause brain damage.

Anti-mercury activists accused the agency of bowing to the dental industry and said they'd try to force a change in court.

Some activists, including U.S. allergist, immunologist and dermatologist Alfred V. Zamm, argue that dental amalgam fillings can leak in people's mouths, posing a variety of chronic and acute health risks.

Silver dental fillings are the least expensive type of filling, accounting for about 30 percent of U.S. fillings.