It may prove to be one of the biggest dental news stories of the year: As of January 1, 2025, with very few exceptions, European dentists will no longer be able to place “silver” mercury amalgam fillings. The EU’s lawmakers made it so. Imports and exports of the material will also be prohibited.

The only news that might top it is the verdict in the federal court case that could spell the end of water fluoridation due to the chemical’s neurotoxicity. We’re still waiting for news of that.

Previously, the EU had banned amalgam use only in children and pregnant and nursing women. This latest action is the natural next step in fulfilling those nations’ obligations under the Minamata Convention, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the harmful effects of mercury.

The dental industry is one of the biggest mercury polluters, introducing up to 35 tons of it into the environment each and every year.

Not all of it comes from the production of amalgam and the improper disposal of waste. Some enters the sewage system in offices that lack amalgam separators. Some is excreted by the body, through urine, feces, sweat, and breath. Some is released from bodies after burial or cremation.

Dental mercury has many paths into our environment:

 
Just as mercury from amalgam can poison our external environment, it can poison your body’s internal environment, too.

That’s because mercury does not stay magically locked within amalgam once the alloy is mixed and packed into a living tooth. Small amounts are off-gassed with every bite, swallow, and exposure to heat. Some of that vapor is inhaled. Once in the lungs, it’s a quick trip into the bloodstream, which carries it throughout the body.

While some of this mercury is excreted, a good amount can wind up being harbored in various parts of the body. It’s especially prone to accumulate in the kidneys, liver, and brain. Mercury is especially toxic to the brain.

A recent study quantifies just how significant this exposure is in one especially vulnerable group: pregnant women.

To determine this, the authors worked with National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data from over 1.6 million American women. About one-third of them had at least one amalgam filling. The more fillings, the higher the levels of mercury in their urine.

Crunching the numbers, the authors found that every single woman with amalgam fillings was “in excess of at least one [mercury] safety limit.” Roughly 30% had mercury exposures above the Environmental Protection Agency’s “safe” level.

“The results observed in this study are of particular concern,” note the authors,

because of the demonstration of Hg [mercury] accumulation in the fetus following Hg [mercury] vapor exposure from amalgams and the known adverse effects on the developing fetus from significant ongoing Hg vapor exposure during pregnancy.

Of course, it’s not only pregnant women who are at risk. The study builds on earlier work by the same authors, which estimated mercury exposure from amalgams in American adults in general.

That study also used NHANES data to estimate exposure to mercury vapor and found that 10% of adults had estimated doses above the EPA’s least restrictive safety standard. For roughly 54% of adults with amalgams, exposure was above California’s most restrictive mercury vapor safety limit.

It’s important to remember: This is an ongoing source of exposure. The fillings are there 24/7, constantly releasing mercury. The metal bioaccumulates. If the body becomes less able to excrete it – whether due to detoxification pathways being overwhelmed or other burdens pushing the body’s defense systems to their limit – symptoms of toxicity begin to develop.

It’s why many people choose to have their old amalgam removed, even if they’re showing no symptoms of toxicity. It’s why we follow strict safety protocols when a patient makes this choice, to limit any further exposures…to the patient, to ourselves, and to our planet.

As they say, no BODY needs mercury.