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Dental Amalgam History

The ugly story behind the use of mercury in dental fillings


Silver - mercury amalgam was first introduced to American dentists in 1830 by the Cracour Brothers of London. They falsely claimed to be dentists and quickly become rich selling mercury laden amalgams, initiating the "amalgam wars" that divided dentistry for half a century. The new material caught on rapidly because it was cheaper, easier, and less painful than the available alternatives, and therefore achieved great economic success. It owes its success to the malleability of the semi-liquid metal mercury which makes up more than 50 percent of standard "silver" amalgam. The early vendors astutely chose the appellation "silver" amalgam, putting a positive spin on this controversial product. Many consumers are still unaware that the shiny fillings in their teeth are composed mostly of mercury. Mercury is now acknowledged to be one of the most toxic nonradioactive heavy metals known to man. Even in small amounts it is more toxic than lead, cadmium, and arsenic. (1,2)

Mercury amalgam made dental care more affordable for the working classes because it was much cheaper than gold, and it was more easily worked by non-professionally trained dentists. The new mercury amalgams were strongly opposed by The American Society of Dental Surgeons, the original dental association founded in this country "to develop and foster the skilled artistic craft of treating dental disease." The organization later "required its members to sign an agreement that they would never…use amalgam on penalty of expulsion." (1)

As early as 1873, mercury’s toxicity was expressed in a statement by a Dr. Payne proclaiming in the Chicago Medical Journal, that "neither Asiatic cholera, nor small pox, nor any malarious disease is doing half the mischief in the world that is done by this poisoning." No amount of skepticism, nor health warnings were able to stop the mercury amalgam takeover of dental care in this country. Another boost came in 1896 when a dentist named G.V. Black developed a better amalgam, in addition to improving the procedures for cavity preparation. Amalgams quickly became the industry standard. Black’s techniques are still in use today.

Health Risks More than a century later and into a new millennium, the tide has finally begun to turn against the use of toxic mercury in the mouths of humans. Mercury is a powerful poison and neurotoxin. Exposure to mercury amalgams has been associated with numerous chronic degenerative diseases such a muscle weakness, fatigue, depression, anorexia, insomnia, arthritis, irritability, memory loss, nausea, gum disease, thyroid dysfunction, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, infertility, irregular heart beat, chest pain, emphysema, and cancer. It has also been associated with attention and sensory deficit, and learning disabilities in children.(2)

U.S. government reports over the past three decades have documented the toxic effects of small amounts of mercury, causing this neurotoxin to be phased out of nearly every consumer product, manufacturing process, and medical application – except dental fillings. The dental industry still inserts nearly 70 million mercury fillings in the mouths of adults and children. According to the World Health Organization, fillings are the major source of human exposure to mercury, for which no safe level has been established. New studies on children confirm this exposure.(3)

Quackery The first generation of dentists using mercury amalgam fillings were derided as "quacks," because quacksilver was the German word for quicksilver (mercury). As mercury amalgams soon became the norm, dentists were no longer accused of practicing "quackery." Instead, they became the respected majority. The term did not go out of vogue. While no longer associated with the German word, quacksilver, or mercury fillings, the term, "quack," has become a common derogatory reference to health practitioners who fall outside the accepted constraints of mainstream medicine, no matter how useful their therapies might be. Source of entire article with references: Edion.com

Author: Rose Marie Williams, MA 156 Sparkling Ridge Road New Paltz, NY 12561 Tel. 845.255.0836 fax 845.255.5101 Email - jwill52739@aol.com

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