Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Dental Amalgams: "Huge Sin Against Humanity" or Completely Safe? Part I

There are few topics about which I have read more than what in polite circles is known as the "controversy" about dental amalgams.

My opinions of the science behind the amalgam issue could not be more different than those of the American Dental Association and sundry other high priests of dentistry, who claim - at least in public - that their views are facts. Even the best doctor has made mistakes, even the best medical product has side-effects, and the road to the morgue is plastered with packaging inserts for products withdrawn by the FDA, so I think it's imprudent to accept any claim about the art of medicine as an eternal God-given verity. In any issue where there are huge differences of opinions, the verifiable facts are far more germane than the opinions. This is why I offer my opinions not as facts, but as opinions, and a good starting point for you to do your own thinking and research, which I strongly encourage.

My opinions are based on many discussions with patients, doctors and dentists, who rely on their observations, and have reached conclusions at odds with the world according to the ADA. Nor am I alone, Congresswoman Diane Watson shares some of my concerns.

What are dental amalgams?

Dental "amalgam" fillings are fillings used to fill cavities which consist of mixture of metals, of which mercury accounts for 40-50% by weight. From a structural point of view, there is no better substance than mercury amalgams; they're cheap, much easier to mold than anything else, and almost indestructible. The problem is that mercury is extremely toxic, and there is ample evidence that when mercury evaporates from these fillings, as it does, it can have serious, even lethal, side-effects.

If They're So Dangerous, Why Doesn't Everyone Know This? Different Excretion Rates, Different Symptoms, and the Naked Emperor Effect

The short answers are: their historical legacy, that not everyone gets hurt by them, the multitude of completely different sets of symptoms, and, perhaps, the stakes involved.

Mercury in Medicine from the Middle Ages to the 1930s.

Mercury was introduced to medicine by Paracelsus (1493-1591), one of the greatest doctors of all times. Mercury-based salves are extremely potent disinfectants, and were the first treatment that were of any use at all for treating syphilis. Mercury, in fact, was a hailed as a "wonder drug" in its day, not unlike penicillin. From those days until recently, mercury-based disinfectants have had their place in medicine.

When amalgam fillings were introduced into medicine in the 1850s, there was a huge controversy about their safety. In my opinion, it's not unlikely, perhaps even probable, that when amalgam fillings were introduced into dentistry in the 1850s, they were a huge step forward. At the time, average life expectancy in Western Europe and the United States was between 30 and 40 years, and probably closer to 30 years. There were no antibiotics; mercury -based salves were the disinfectants of choice. In the 1850s some doctors used mercury, in the form of calomel, on just about any wound, even though the patients occasionally went insane. If patients were going to be exposed to significant quantities of mercury one way or another, using it in dentistry was just another use.

Filling teeth serves a useful purpose; if you don't remove the decayed part of the tooth, you'll loose the tooth. If you don't fill the decayed part, your chances of not seeing the tooth decay anew are minimal. Back in the 1850s, when there were no antibiotics, and surgical procedures were far cruder than today; not having anesthetics, dentists would hire big strong men to hold their patients still while they worked on their teeth. To this day, having an undiagnosed infected tooth is a good way to get a chronic heart infection or even chronic neurological problems. Back in the 1850s, when even if such an infection was caught, the odds of a patient surviving it were much worse, the imperative of avoiding tooth loss was far greater than it is today.

And even if fillings were very bad news for a sizable minority of their patients 30 or 40 years down the road, with the average life expectancy being between 30 and 40 years, only very few people stood to be around and predisposed to experience these baneful effects. I think it's conceivable, even probable, that, when they were introduced, the gains that resulted from amalgam fillings far exceeded the long-term problems they caused. In the 1850s, slavery was generally considered "normal," as was the fact that most Congressman chewed and spat out tobacco in the halls of the Capitol. This has changed, and our understanding of the sciences and dentistry far surpasses that of 150 years ago; I think the time has come to question whether amalgam fillings are "normal."

The amalgam controversy re-erupted in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s; scientists, among them Alfred Stock, one of Germany's most respected chemists, wanted to ban amalgam fillings. At the time, Germany was, far and away, the country with the most respected scientists. Students at Harvard University pined to study at the University of Göttingen, today, it's the other way around. Stock had found that he was becoming more and more forgetful, to the point that he couldn't work anymore, and eventually traced the cause of his declining health to the mercury vapors emanating from the fillings in his teeth. After he had his amalgam fillings removed, he slowly began to recover.

You can get some impression of just how toxic Stock thought that mercury is, when you consider that Stock taught and conducted research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, which, until parvenus foisted their noxious notions onto Germany, was one of the most prestigious institute for medical research in the world. One of the researchers at the institute won two Nobel Prizes. Yet when Stock was offered a teaching position at another university that guaranteed a mercury-free work environment, he quickly left the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute.

In the 1930s Germany was plagued by a plethora of problems, but its scientists were on a tear; they got smoking in public banned, proved that asbestos is a carcinogen and were working on getting it banned. Stock, who published articles on the mercury levels in cadavers' brains and the high levels he found, and others were pushing for an immediate ban on the most dangerous (high copper) amalgams and the ban of all amalgams as soon as replacements could be developed. As late as 1939, Stock was publishing on the detrimental health effects that amalgams cause. Alfred Stock's literal words are "One day the world will come to realize that the uncritical use of amalgam in dental fillings was a huge sin against humanity." Unfortunately, Germany's bigger insanities overwhelmed their efforts to bring sanity to dentistry.

Wildly Disparate Mercury Tolerances Among Humans

When I had a few amalgams put in, my dentist told me that it was known that mercury does slowly evaporate from these fillings, and that the vast majority of people are able to excrete it as it evaporates, but that a tiny minority of people do get poisoned by them; when this happened, he told me, it was always caught by doctors.

In the time since the 1850s, we've come to a much better understanding of what mercury does and doesn't do in humans. Paracelsus not only introduced mercury into medicine, but is also known for his saying that "Everything is poison, and nothing is poison, only the dosage determines the toxicity." When regulators determined the highest safe levels of mercury, they apparently did so by going into factories where a mercury was used, and measuring the exposures that the workers tolerated without getting sick. Unfortunately, the idea that all men may not be created equal when it came to tolerating mercury seems to have never crossed their mind. Even worse, this caveat has yet to be reconsidered, despite the fact that a multitude of differences among humans are well-documented; some become sick if they consume lactose, some become sick if they consume gluten and so forth. We know that there are genetic illnesses in which humans can't deal with other metals. Some humans tend to accumulate toxic levels of iron, others toxic levels of copper. Could it be that some people tend to accumulate toxic levels of mercury at exposures that others tolerate? I believe this to be the case.

The Insidiousness of Mercury Intoxications

If mercury does accumulate indeed accumulate in the body, the obvious question is what the symptoms of mercury toxicity are. Alfred Stock described mercury intoxications as "insidious," because they are so hard to diagnose. Intoxications with poisons such as strychnine, whose molecules are relatively large and have relatively complicated structures, produce relatively clear cut symptoms, because they only disturb relatively few molecular processes. Poisons such as cyanide and mercury, which have minute structures or are salts are much less limited in the number of processes they can disturb. As the pathways they preferably inhibit depend on the genetic makeup of the individual, low level intoxications do not have specific clear cut symptoms. Trying to identify a single set of symptoms of mercury intoxications is as foolish as seeking a consensus on what a Rorschach blot represents; every individual is different.

If mercury intoxications don't produce clear cut set of symptoms, the only to identify what symptoms it does cause is to take people exposed to mercury, remove them from their sources of exposure, and observe the results. This has been done repeatedly, with spectacular results. Two of the best reports on this are Health Observations After the Removal of Amalgam, and Is Migraine an Incurable Illness. There's also a fairly comprehensive summary of all such investigations.

Removing mercury amalgams reportedly can result in the following woes disappearing:

  • Migraines
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal Disturbances
  • Neck tensions
  • Paresthesias
  • Dizziness
  • Allergies
  • Vision Disturbances
  • Back pains
  • psychiatric disturbances
  • joint pains
  • shoulder and arm pains

68% of the 88 patients reported that their health was "much better", 12 % that it was "better", and 7% that it was "somewhat better" after their amalgam fillings were removed. Most doctors would be quite happy to perform a procedure that results in 87% of their patients reporting noticeable improvements in their health. Even more tantalizing is the fact that these huge improvements are only the result of removing the amalgams; often when someone is seriously intoxicated, doctors will use medications to remove the toxin.

But there's even more. Alfred Stock recovered from having a severely diminished memory; there's a credible report of an Alzheimer's patient who recovered from Alzheimer's after having had his fillings removed. Tom Warren the man in question, went on to write a book on his experience of recovering from Alzheimer's an illness irreversible according to the lore of "mainstream medicine": Beating Alzheimer's: A Step Towards Unlocking the Mysteries of Brain Diseases. Interestingly, he believes that in his case, Alzheimer's was the result of a combination of mercury and aluminium intoxications.

Even Sheep Get Mercury in Their Brains

If you have any doubt that mercury evaporates from the fillings and is deposited in various organs of the body, this article proving that a radioactive isotope of mercury quickly made its way into the brain and other organs after it was inserted into sheeps' teeth. Bear in mind that toxins exert synergistic effects, such that a mercury dosage that may only be lethal in 1 rat out of a hundred will be lethal in 100 rats out of 100 in the presence of another toxin at a concentration that is only lethal in 1 rat out of a hundred.

In the ongoing debate about the safety of dental amalgams, one of the contentions of the advocates of their safety was mercury does not escape from the amalgam fillings in any meaningful amounts. There are two theoretical reasons why this is highly unlikely. The first is that every liquid evaporates at room temperature. Unless mercury has properties heretofore unknown to physicists, it, too, must evaporate. The second reason is that dental amalgams are mixtures of metals. Anytime you put two metals touch, or are connected by water or saliva, electric current results; in other words, amalgam fillings are batteries, with their very own electromagnetic field. This results in corrosion, and the release of mercury from amalgams.

(As an aside, it also results in electromagnetic fields (EMF) just as power lines do; since the strength of a such a field diminishes in proportion to the square of the distance from it's source, a filling 5 centimeters from your brain, and a power line with an EMF a million times stronger that is 50 meters from your brain will both exert the same effect
on your brain. If the qi that oriental medicine and acupuncturists posit flows through your body is electro-magnetic in nature, this may not be totally without consequences.)

To conclusively prove that mercury does escape from amalgams, Vimy and Lorscheider implanted amalgam fillings containing a radioactive isotope of mercury into sheep, and then looked where this mercury went. Here are their results, with pictures. Note that mercury levels in the brain are elevated, even though mercury concentrations were measured only a month after the amalgams were implanted. If mercury is deposited in the brain, but at a much slower pace than it is in the kidneys or gut, then it would appear that in the long-term, a lot more mercury will accumulate in the brain.

Mercury in Medicine from the 1930s to Today

Among the dentists aware of Alfred Stock's research were a husband and wife who were both dentists in Brazil. They had first been introduced to the notion that amalgam can be dangerous when parents brought a girl dying of leukemia to the husband's practice, and asked him, as a last resort, to please remove the amalgam fillings. Within a matter of days, the girl had recovered . The doctors aware of the case insisted that this was a coincidence, so the husband reinserted amalgam fillings, and the girl came down with leukemia again. And when he removed the fillings, the girl recovered. Nevertheless, the doctors, in their cult-like devotion to the holy scriptures they had learned in medical school, continued to insist that this was a coincidence.

Their son, Olympio Pinto, studied dentistry, and then went to the United States, where he hoped to further research the baneful effects that dental amagalms may cause. According to Hal Huggins in his book It's All in Your Head, the National Institute of Dental Research, - part of the National Institutes of Health - offered him the choice of abandoning his research or being deported. Hal Huggins, was so shocked by what he learned from this researcher, that he wound up devoting his life to studying and documenting the health effects of amalgam. After he made it onto 60 Minutes, he found himself embroiled in regulatory hearings that led to his license being revoked. What I don't know is whether he left the hearings mumbling "E pur si muove." What I do know is that he reports suffering continuous harassment that continues to the present day.

Mercury and the Immune System

One of the areas in which Dr. Huggins has truly distinguished himself is in researching the effects of mercury on the immune system. He realized that a degree in dental science would never suffice to thoroughly understand what all damage mercury can do to the immune system, so he returned to university to get a Masters in Immunology.

Most interesting is that amalgam fillings appear to affect the immune system. In "Mercury and Other Toxic Metals in Humans: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Biocompatiblity of Materials, Huggins reports that simply looking at basic blood work is enough to allow him to determine if a person has amalgam fillings or not. This of course, could be taken to mean that mercury is part of the etiology of "autoimmune illnesses of unknown origin."

Very interesting, and perhaps the topic of another post is that Huggins writes that his "thesis" after following changes in the blood work of patients with amalgams, without amalgams, and after the removal of amalgams is that, among other things, an elevation in basophils, and changes to the white blood cell count, lymphocytes, monocytes, and eosinophiles can correlate with being exposed to amalgams and then having them removed. The source for this is in Dr. Huggins' contribution to the Proceedings mentioned above.

Interestingly, a professor at Emory University, by the name of Carl Pfeiffer MD, PhD, found that some of the more severe psychiatric syndromes are accompanied by unusually high basophil and histamine levels. Histamine is a neurotransmitter that is stored in the basophils. Like serotonin and noradrenalin, histamine is active in the brain. An excess of histamine definitely is a "chemical imbalance." Could mercury - basophils - histamine be cause and effect?

There also is evidence to suggest that mercury exposure plays some role in some, perhaps most, cases of MS. Once again, Dr. Huggins has done truly spectacular work. Although it's not definitive proof, Huggins and a friend of his Thomas Levy, extracted cerebrospinal fluid from the spines of patients with MS, removed their amalgam fillings, and then redrew cerebrospinal fluid. The unusual proteins that are typical of MS in the "after" CSF specimens, though, as Huggins and Levy note, it is unclear if this is due to their absence or that they were no longer picked up by the lab technique. This certainly could explain why one of Dr. Engel's patients was diagnosed with MS, and then recovered after he had the kindness to remove her amalgams. Dr. Huggins has written a great book, Solving the MS Mystery: Help, Hope and Recovery, which, while I don't think is the final word on every aspect of mercury poisoning, is a truly spectacular book. I don't understand how a sentient human can read this book with its multitudinous citations, and honestly deny the MS-mercury connection.

What Other Diseases Could Possibly be Caused by Mercury?

One of the cardinal symptoms of a mercury intoxication is the patient's having rapidly shifting moods, or, in other words, poor impulse control.

  • Could this (partially) explain why Dr. Engel saw patients recover from psychiatric problems after he removed their amalgam fillings?
  • Could this (partially) explain why a study of patients afflicted with bipolar disorder found that some of the uncommon personality traits associated with bipolar disorder cleared up when amalgam fillings were removed?
  • Could this (partially) explain why a study of patients afflicted with schizophrenia found that some of the uncommon personality traits associated with schizophrenia cleared up when amalgam fillings were removed?
  • Could this explain why the National Instutites of Health prefer to investigate healthy songbirds rather than sick people? Could it be that the NIMH - and the entire government health research establishment - is "for the birds?"

The old joke comes to mind about the drunk who's been searching for his keys under a street light for several hours. Eventually a cop comes to him, and asks him what the problems is. He replies that he lost his keys in the ditch "over there," and has been looking for them ever since. The cop asks him why he's looking for his keys under a street light if he lost them in a ditch. The drunk replies that he's doing so because it's so much easier to search where the lighting is good...

I'm not a physician, and wouldn't want to delve into all the illnesses that could possibly be caused by amalgams. The Department of Truth aka "the FDA" has just rejected a report that concluded dental fillings used by millions of patients are safe, saying "further study" of the mercury-laden amalgam is needed.

Perhaps some good starting points to make educated guesses about why they may not be safe are to note that:

  • mercury affects the immune system and is toxic,
  • accumulates in the gut and is toxic,
  • accumulates in the brain and pituitary gland, the preeminent endocrine gland, and is toxic,
  • accumulates in the kidneys, where it is also toxic,
  • mercury is known to be a potent carcinogen,
  • it probably isn't coincidental that in the hearts of patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, mercury levels were found to be 22,000 times higher than in controls
  • mercury is one of those gifts that keeps on giving; it's known to cause birth defects.

To top it off, it can be quite hard to diagnose mercury intoxications; all of this means that at the very least it's conceivable that more than a few illnesses "of unknown origin" actually are manifestations of, or caused by, mercury intoxications. Just look at what all Dr. Engel found.

It's time for you to do your own research and thinking.


Dr. Paul Engel's publications:

Observations After the Removal of Amalgams The Best Before and After Amalgam Removal Comparison
Migraine an Incurable Illness?

Mercury on the Mind by Donald Miller MD (focuses on the Alzheimer's connection)

IAOMT The International Academy for Oral Medicine and Toxicology (Dentists who question the party line.)

DAMS Patients who question the party line.


Hal Huggins, DDS. It's All in Your Head The Link Between Mercury Amalgams and Illness: This is not only the best introduction to the debate about amalgams and the history of the debate about their safety, it probably is the best book that could be written about it.

Hal Huggins, DDS. Solving the MS Mystery: Help, Hope and Recovery. In this book Hal Huggins describes his research into, and understanding of the cause(s) of MS. I don't think this book is the last word on amalgams and MS, but I think it's an excellent resource if you question the party line.

Tom Warren. Beating Alzheimer's: A Step Towards Unlocking the Mysteries of Brain Diseases The amazing story of how one man was diagnosed with Alzheimer's told to prepare to die, and recovered. Worth reading, especially if you like books in which someone takes the system on, and resoundingly triumphs.

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