Good dental health is incredibly important during pregnancy. It helps ensure both you and your baby stay safe and healthy. However, an often overlooked aspect of oral health during pregnancy is the mercury inside your silver fillings.
The fact is, mercury is toxic to women and their babies– both inside and outside of the womb.
If you are currently pregnant or plan to get pregnant in the future, it’s especially important for you to fully understand what mercury is and how you can avoid the life-threatening issues associated with silver fillings.
What is Mercury?
Mercury is a naturally-occurring chemical element. It exists in several forms, the most common being methylmercury and elemental mercury.
Methylmercury is created when mercury combines with carbon. Methylmercury is invisible to the naked eye, is the most common source of organic mercury for humans, and is very poisonous.
Conversely, elemental mercury is mercury that has not yet reacted with another substance. You’ll recognize elemental mercury as a shiny, silvery metal that turns to liquid at room temperature. While at room temperature or when heated, elemental mercury will evaporate into an odorless, yet toxic vapor and gas.
Where is Mercury Found?
Elemental mercury and methylmercury are very dangerous to humans, yet both forms of this chemical are found in our daily lives.
Methylmercury is the most common organic mercury compound found in the environment. This chemical is found mostly in water, soil, plants, and animals. Methylmercury is especially common in fish– in fact, studies show there are varying amounts of mercury in all seafood.
Methylmercury is also found in a number of household items and can be toxic to humans if used or disposed of incorrectly. These include:
- Fluorescent lights (mercury vapor helps transport electrical currents)
- Latex paint
Mercury in its elemental form commonly appears in a number of appliances and household items and instruments, including thermometers and barometers.
However, the most disturbing appearance of elemental mercury in our day-to-day lives is located right inside your mouth, dangerously close to your brain. What we’re talking about, of course, are dental amalgams– otherwise known as silver fillings.
Although most people call them “silver” fillings, in reality, these fillings are comprised of 50% mercury and only roughly 32% silver. The remaining percentage is made of up tin, copper, and zinc. In truth, the more appropriate name and one which is being used more commonly are “mercury-amalgam fillings”.
Scary Effects of Mercury-Amalgam Fillings on Pregnancy
Though mercury is often presented as being carefully integrated into our society, in reality, it’s threatening the health of individuals on a daily basis. The high levels of mercury in “silver” fillings, in particular, has been scientifically linked to a variety of health problems.
Pregnant women are especially at risk and must be aware of the huge impact these fillings can have on the health of their child. Mercury from “silver” fillings travels across the placental barrier to the baby.
The mercury in your fillings can continue to affect your baby after birth, as high levels of mercury will travel through breast milk.
There is no known safe level of mercury exposure. Because developing babies are incredibly vulnerable, the effects of mercury on your child can be even more devastating than they are in an adult.
Brain and Spinal Cord Damage
Mercury is proven to cause central nervous system damage – including damage to the brain and spinal cord. In one study published in Environmental Health News, infants with spina bifida and anencephaly were 12 times as likely to have higher than average mercury levels.
Not all mercury exposure leads to highly apparent issues. However, its long-term effects can still be seen. In one study, an estimated 300,000-600,000 American children were found to have reductions in IQ which is believed to be the result of mercury exposure.
Babies with mercury poisoning often display developmental issues, including small head size, developmental delays, and mental retardation. Additionally, mercury poisoning has been linked to blindness, hearing loss, and seizures.
Other effects of mercury poisoning include muscle weakness, seizures, and even cerebral palsy-like symptoms.
Why is Mercury in Silver Fillings?
At this point, you’re likely questioning why mercury was added to dental fillings in the first place– especially with its known toxicity.
Durability and affordability are among the top reasons why so many dentists use mercury fillings. These mercury fillings are very strong and typically cost patients 20 percent less than a safe non-toxic filling.
Another reason so many dentists adopted (and still use) this type of filling is it’s incredibly simple to install and requires a low level of specialized technique.
Today, more than 150 million Americans have mercury amalgam fillings in their teeth. To think that this toxic element has been knowingly added to the mouths of so many individuals simply because it is cheap and easy is horrifying, at best.
What to Do if You Have a Silver Filling
Mercury does not belong in your mouth. Ever. If you have a silver filling, your best option is to have it safely removed. Since mercury is a highly toxic material, it’s imperative that you follow strict safety standards when getting fillings removed.
Here at Blodgett Dental Care, we ensure the highest level of safety when removing silver fillings. We are the first SMART-certified (Safe Mercury Amalgam Removal Technique) dental office in Oregon and have the ability to expertly replace your fillings with safer, non-toxic materials.
Make sure you let your dentist know if you are pregnant before having any dental treatment performed. Together you can decide on the best way to approach your dental health and keep both you and your baby safe.
Avoiding Other Types of Exposure to Mercury During Pregnancy
If you don’t have any silver fillings, you’re ahead of the pack when it comes to ensuring a safe and healthy pregnancy and baby. However, keep in mind there are other ways you can be exposed.
As we mentioned earlier, methylmercury is common in our environment– especially when it comes to fish. This means you need to be cautious of eating certain types of fish during pregnancy.
Talk to your doctor about which specific species to avoid. Typically, the bigger, longer-lived fish (such as sharks and swordfish) have the highest levels of mercury. Even if you’re not currently pregnant, you should be careful of regularly consuming excessive amounts of seafood high in mercury.
Have More Questions About Silver Fillings?
Our team at Blodgett Dental Care is dedicated to your overall dental health and wellbeing.
If you are ready to take great care of your teeth before, during, and after pregnancy, make an appointment with Dr. Blodgett today. Together we’ll discuss any questions or concerns you have about mercury fillings and how you can keep you and your baby safe and healthy.
Dr. Blodgett completed his pre-doctoral sciences at Portland State University and graduated from the Oregon Health Science University School of Dentistry in 1999. As a modern pioneer in progressive dental care, Dr. Blodgett has become a leader in minimally-invasive dentistry, dental lasers, computerized dental technology, and holistic care. He is widely recognized for the innovative care he provides and is dedicated to helping his patients optimize their whole body health.