New research, conducted by scientists in the UK, has indicated that metal dental fillings may leak the toxin mercury if they are exposed to a new powerful type of medical scan being introduced into the medical system.
The researchers looked at the effects of ultra-high-strength MRI, a new cutting edge technology currently being used for medical research, but not yet on patients. While these scans are not widely used at this point, this research is particularly notable because, the new MRIs seem to be the future of MRI technology.
The recent study was published in the journal Radiology and demonstrates that as little as just twenty minutes of exposure to the powerful MRI is enough to trigger the release of the toxin. The study did not look at teeth still inside the mouth of a person, but rather looked at extracted teeth that contained the silver amalgam fillings.
Although metal fillings, used for over 150 years for a variety of dental procedures, are now more commonly being replaced by white, ceramic, composite fillings, they are still the most common type offered by NHS dentists. Additionally, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), more than 100 million silver-amalgam fillings are placed in American mouths each year for treatment of decaying teeth. The ADA states that metal fillings are a safe, affordable and durable restorative material that has been studied and reviewed extensively, and that no adverse health effects have been detected related to the fillings.
Similarly, the British Dental Association (BDA) says dental amalgam is safe and can be used without concern, albeit with some restrictions based on the 2015 EU report recommending that silver fillings be slowly phased out. The restrictions, in effect as of July 1, 2018, recommend that the silver fillings can be used in all populations excluding children under the age of 15 and in pregnant women. The statement adds, however that “there is no reliable evidence for restriction based on adverse health effects of dental amalgam in these patient groups.” Rather, the fillings are being eliminated “to formalize the principle of phasing down dental amalgam use in situations where any intervention should ideally be minimised.”
While the phasing out of silver fillings seems to indicate a need for worry, actually the European Parliament voted in favour of a gradual reduction in the use of dental amalgam not for direct health reasons, but to protect the environment. When dental amalgam gets into the environment via extracted teeth or medical waste the mercury it contains can be converted into methylmercury by aquatic microbes, ultimately seeping into the food chain. This toxin then can eventually be consumed by people who eat contaminated seafood.
While all researchers stress that more studies need to be conducted to further assess the connection between dental amalgam and mercury, there are many techniques recommended universally by dentists to minimize tooth decay and thus the need for any type of dental intervention or filling. Recommendations for good oral hygiene include: regular brushing of teeth with a fluoride toothpaste, flossing twice daily, visiting the dentist for check ups twice a year, and eating a healthy diet with minimal sugar laden and processed foods.
Furthermore, studies indicate that while using a manual toothbrush is a less expensive and sufficient want to clean teeth, there may be significant advantages that come with using an electric toothbrush.
Researchers from the Cochrane Collaboration recently reviewed more than 50 studies that compared electric toothbrushes with manual brushes and found that electric toothbrushes are more efficient at reducing plaque and gingivitis in the mouth. Yet, electric toothbrushes are not all created equal; it is worthwhile to invest in one of the best electric toothbrushes out there to reap the maximum oral health benefits.
Despite the concerns related to the silver fillings, the British Dental Association’s scientific adviser Prof Damien Walmsley said, “The study indicates that people who have amalgam fillings should not be concerned if they need to have a conventional MRI scan.”
“This will be a decreasing problem in time [as amalgam fillings are phased out] but the development of new ultra-high-strength MRI scanners, which were only approved by the US Food and Drug Administration last year, needs to be reviewed closely.
“The researchers acknowledge that further studies are needed on any potential risk presented by the new generation of MRI scanners.”
In the meantime, while further studies are conducted on the emerging MRI technology, the NHS confirms that routine MRI scans are painless and safe procedures, even for people with silver fillings.