Dentists: Amalgam fillings safe

Star-Tribune staff writer

Amalgam fillings that contain mercury pose no threat to patients and scientific evidence overwhelming supports this, several Wyoming dentists and the Wyoming Dental Association said in response to testimony given in Washington D.C., last week that they are unsafe.

Mike Keim, a dentist who has practiced in Casper for more than 30 years, said there have been hundreds if not thousands of studies done on whether this type of filling is safe and only a couple show some sort of problem.

Also, he said those few studies were done poorly. For example one showed mercury poisoning in sheep that had amalgam fillings, but Keim said sheep have a much different chemical makeup than humans.

"It's a relatively safe restoration," Keim said. "The best way to tell is to take a huge group who has amalgams and those who don't and look at their diseases. There is no difference."

Last week, two advisory panels in Washington D.C., rejected a draft report from the Food and Drug Administration that said amalgam fillings were safe. The panels said that more examination into the safety of amalgam fillings was needed

Nick Bouzis, a dentist in Gillette, said the panels should have looked more at the evidence-based research instead of the anecdotes and speculation that was offered in much of the testimony.

"It would be helpful to look at a dentist who is 75, who has been exposed to it 1,000 times more than a patient and see how he is affected," Bouzis said.

Bouzis uses amalgam fillings every day while Keim said he uses them rarely.

Keim said he does not use them because there are other types of fillings available now -- such as composite fillings -- that offer a better restoration of the teeth. He said many of the fractured teeth he sees previously had an amalgam filling in them.

An amalgam filling is 50 percent elemental mercury combined with silver, copper, tin and zinc, according to the American Dental Association's Web site. However, dental amalgams have entirely different properties than mercury by itself.

Rodney Hill, a dentist in Casper and president of the Wyoming Dental Association, said the association takes the position of the ADA, which states that amalgam fillings remain a safe way to fill decayed teeth, and they should continue to be made available to dentists.

Keim said he was not concerned about last week's ruling and those who gave testimony opposed to amalgam fillings.

"They went there to get a ban," Keim said. "[The FDA] still found essentially the same thing. They didn't make any changes."