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County woman crusades against mercury in dental fillings


Tuesday, November 21, 2006 10:25 AM EST

Honoree Roger Cheek and outgoing Bedford Mayor Tom Messier chat during Saturday's event.

Editor's note: This story is the first in a series looking at the issue of amalgam fillings. Today's story looks at an area woman's testimony before the FDA against the use of amalgam fillings. Next week's story will look at the ADA's response and explore the issue further.

Like many area residents, Marie Flowers of Stewartsville visited the Bedford County Administration building last week to talk to county officials about her real estate taxes.

And while the recently completed county reassessments have set off the passions of many county residents, it was another conversation that Flowers had that day that ignites her true life passion.

Flowers wore a button about mercury fillings. Another Bedford County resident noticed the button and said to her, "Oh I thought they didn't use mercury in dental fillings any more. I thought the amalgam now didn't have mercury."

Flowers, however, set the record straight.

"I told her that amalgam means 'mixed with mercury.'" Flowers said. "I wonder what dentist has been telling her falsehoods? She knew the word amalgam. She said a tooth had broken and she was tasting metal right then and had been having memory problems for a couple months."

Flowers referred the woman to her Web site, www.mercurypoisoned.com, and told her where she could find a biological dentist.

That, in a nutshell, describes the life mission of Marie Flowers, a mission that this past September took her before an advisory panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration investigating the mercury filling issue.

Her story

Flowers said she received her first amalgam fillings in her molars when she was 12 years old. By the time she was 46 she had 11 mercury fillings.

Those fillings, she claims, eventually led to some severe health problems she has suffered.

"It took 34 years to experience my first neurological symptom, an occasional numbness in my face, from the mercury," Flowers testified before the committee.

Flowers said she told her dentist about the numbness in her face, but he continued to put in and take out mercury fillings "all the time allowing me to breathe mercury vapor," she said. "I thought they were just silver fillings.

She admits her dentist didn't do anything wrong. "He didn't violate the Standards of Care in dentistry," she said. She said most don't use respiratory protection for their patients.

In early 2001 she developed a drooping face (Belle's Palsy). She believes it was caused by mercury in her peripheral nervous system. She was put on prednisone, which Flowers said lowers the immune system.

In July of that year while on vacation, she had a tooth with an amalgam filling crack off. A local dentist patched the tooth until she could get home and get a crown. "I immediately started tasting metal because of oral galvanism from the patching material," she told the panel.

The net result was that because dissimilar metals were put together it caused a battery-like effect, forcing mercury to leak out of the filling at a faster rate, Flowers claims, adding "It commonly causes a metallic taste."

That, she said, meant she was absorbing more mercury vapor than ever. She said she didn't realize the metallic taste was a symptom of mercury toxicity, and her dentist didn't either. "Metallic taste is listed right there on the Materials Safety Data Sheet for the amalgam capsule as a mercury toxic symptom," she told the panel.

She said her dentist fit her tooth for a crown, by drilling more than usual, and left in some of the mercury filling and the patching material.

That led to more of an increase in metallic taste. She said mercury started leaking out of that tooth, leaving a blue line at the base of the tooth, called "an amalgam tattoo." The gum swelled.

Soon after Flowers said she felt movement in her brain. That soon led to a tingling at her scalp and a headache. Nine days after the drilling, Flowers said her entire "brain was on fire."

"I was having these electrical shocks from the top of my head to the tips of my toes," Flowers said. She describes the feeling like her brain was vibrating inside her skull and it wanted to jump out. She said Multiple Sclerosis doctors call her experience Lhermitte's phenomena. "I call it mercury hitting the brain," she said.

Flowers said she became allergic to foods. She said she had chronic fatigue, visual disturbances, tingling in her hands and feet and she became dizzy and confused. "I lay in bed for hours with a healing pad on my aching muscles," she testified.

Flowers said she was angry and paranoid, and suffered memory loss.

"One Sunday morning I woke my husband up at 1 a.m. and screamed at him for an hour, begging him to help me figure out what to do next," she added.

She showed symptoms similar to MS.

She said she was eventually tested for heavy metals using a urine challenge test. The test didn't reveal high levels of mercury, but she said the problem is those tests measure how much mercury she was able to excrete, not how much was in her brain and organs.

"Those who are poisoned by mercury are often poor excretors of mercury and may not be able to excrete very much in the urine. That is why we are poisoned," she said.

Flowers said she had her fillings safely taken out, but mercury remains on her brain because it takes 27 years to remove the mercury completely.

She said she's never had a metallic taste or nausea again after her crown was removed and the mercury was taken out of her tooth.

While not healed, Flowers said she has experienced recovery by taking medication called DMSA, which helps her detoxify the mercury that remains. And now she's on a mission to inform others about her claims.

Her work

Flowers is an activist on the issue of problems being caused by mercury-based dental fillings. In addition to her testimony before the advisory committee she also pickets governmental and private organizations that fail to respond to the problem.

Following the hearings, the September panel rejected the FDA's decision that mercury fillings are safe, and stated more research was needed. The American Dental Association maintains the fillings are safe, but in a recent statement the ADA said it welcomes future research on the issue.

Flowers hopes that the use of mercury fillings will be banned for pregnant women and children. Children, she said, have less ability to detox mercury and mercury crosses the placenta in pregnant women.

"The bigger you are it's possible it would harm you less if your detoxification pathways are adequate," she said.

And she's hoping to get her message out.

"People are not really being informed," she said. "They think of it (amalgam fillings) as a cosmetic thing, (that) it's just a silver filling."

And she said, their insurance will only pay for those fillings.

Fillings, if removed, must be done so safely, Flowers states. "Don't go out and have the fillings removed. Do the research first," she said. "They need to find a dentist who will do it safely."

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