On 11th July 1994 the BBC transmitted a TV programme called Poison in the Mouth.

This is the transcript of that programme:


quoted throughout this text.




VOICE OVER: This is a phial of mercury, a liquid metal and one of the most poisonous substances known to man. Most people have metal or amalgam fillings in their mouths, and half the metal in each filling is made from this stuff. For years dentists have believed these fillings were safe, but now we know that every time we chew, brush or grind our teeth, some of the mercury is released as a vapour and we inhale it.

Panorama has uncovered a growing body of scientific evidence that shows ominous links between the mercury from our fillings and serious illnesses. We also reveal an uncomfonable background of complacency and ignorance within the British dental establishment, and apathy in government, which is helping mask the truth about the dangers of the poison in your mouth.


These men are handling old amalgam tooth filling for recycling.

Once removed, what had lived inside our mouths for years is suddenly treated as the dangerous poison it's always been.

Mercury is so toxic that at certain levels it drives people mad, but even the tiniest amounts are regarded as unsafe. At lower levels - and no one quite knows how low they are - the metal attacks the brain and the central nervous system, producing symptoms that include nervousness and irritability, lack of concentration, loss of memory and self confidence, mood swings, anxiety, depression, fatigue and insomnia.

Because there can be other causes for these symptoms, no one has associated dental amalgam with them. But suddenly the familiar quicksilver of our youth is beginning to look dirty.


DR BOYD HALEY (University of Kentucky): If you have something that's been put in your mouth that you can't dispose of in a waste basket without breaking environmental protection laws, there's no point in keeping it around, there's no point in taking that type of risk - there's no point in exposing people to any level of mercury toxicityif you don't have to.


JOHN HUNT (Chief Executive, British Dental Association): The epidemiological evidence thus far - and every other bit of evidence that we've seen, not just ourselves but the scientific experts and the toxicologists - points to amalgam being as safe as any other material.

DR MURRAY VIMY (University of Calgary):

Mercury is a poison - there's no safe level. The World Health Organisation has determined that, and so how can we continue to implant that into people's teeth?

VOICE OVER: Dentists have been using amalgam for over a century, convinced of its safety. Mercury is used to bond silver and other metals together to make a cheap, efficient and durable filling, yet no one has proven that when the mercury goes into our bodies it is safe. The dentists have always assumed it was safe because these were no identifiable side-effects - but dentists may not have been the right people to look for the dangerous symptoms of low-level mercury poisoning. Supposing there have been side-effects, but of the kind only doctors are qualified to recognise? Has the evidence always been there?

Tonight we examine the new scientific clues that place amalgam firmly in the dock, on suspicion of causing harm to humans. It's a case where both sides, believers and non-believers, are fundamentally divided on even the most basic issues.

Amalgam's most vehement support comes from the British Dental Association (BDA), the professional body to which most dentists belong. They run a service that includes giving their members an up-to-date scientific advisory service. John Hunt is the Chief Executive and Peter Gordon the scientific adviser. They do no original work, but review other studies.

BBC REPORTER: Is amalgam safe?

PETER GORDON (Science Adviser, BDA): In a word, yes.

BBC REPORTER: No doubt about that at all?

PETER GORDON: No doubt about it at all.

BBC REPORTER: Is there anybody it is not safe for?

PETER GORDON: There may be a small percentage of the population with an allergy to amalgam, but it really is very, very small - in fact less than 50 worldwide in the last 100 years.

BBC REPORTER: So it must be 99.9 per cent safe?

PETER GORDON: Yes in our opinion.


VOICE OVER: Dr Lars Friberg spoke recently at a German amalgam conference. He's the world's leading authority on mercury poisoning and was Chief Adviser to the World Health Organisation on mercury safety. Until now he's remained studiously neutral in the mercury debate.

BBC REPORTER: Dr Friberg, is there a safe level of mercury?

DR LARS FRIBERG (Consultant, World Health Organisation): No, there is no safe level of mercury, and no one has actually shown that there is a safe level. I would say mercury is a very toxic substance.

BBC REPORTER: So there's no amount, in your opinion, that should really go into the body?

DR FRIBERG: I would like to avoid it as far as possible.

BBC REPORTER: If there is no safe level of mercury, why does the British Dental Association say there is one?

DR FRIBERG: I don't know, but I think they're wrong.

(Vision cuts away from interview)

VOICE OVER: The first evidence of mercury's journey into the body came ten years ago. Dentists had always assumed that mercury stayed inert in the filling, but scientists discovered that the gleamy new amalgam inside a polished tooth didn't stay put - it leaked as mercury vapour and entered the bloodstream.


This is an electron microscope picture of a ten-year-old amalgam Filling. Those black holes are where the mercury used to be. In this filling, some 40 per cent has evaporated in only ten years. So where did it go, and could it cause harm to humans?


The challenge was taken up in Western Canada by two men from different disciplines. Their co-operation has produced scientific revelations which are so damning that they may yet bring about the end of the very use of dental amalgam. Fritz Lorscheider and Murray Vimy set about clearing the smoke surrounding the amalgam mystery. Vimy, the academic dentist and World Health Organisation consultant, and Lorscheider, Professor of Medical Physiology at the University of Calgary, pioneered a simple but dramatic experiment to show not only where the missing mercury went, but also that it did do harm when it got there. Their work shattered the comfortable illusion that mercury and amalgams were stable and safe. They took a sheep and put fillings in its teeth containing radioactive mercury, which would show up as black on X-rays.

DR VIMY: Here's the outline of the sheep, and this is the jawbone; here are the two stomachs; this area is the liver; here are the two kidneys, and this is the transverse colon. So the mercury from the fillings which were slightly radioactive migrated to these tissues. In fact it was in all the tissues. The dental profession said: well, it's a sheep - it chews too much, they grind a lot, they regurgitate their food - it's not a good example.

BBC REPORTER: So they repeated the work with monkeys, and found that again the mercury had spread. Furthermore, they discovered that even small amounts of mercury from amalgams damaged the kidneys of the sheep.

(Vision cuts to interview extract)

BBC REPORTER: When you look at all the current scientific evidence,  what do you think it's trying to tell you?

DR VIMY: It tells me very succinctly that there is a chronic low-dose exposure to a toxic heavy metal that 80-85 per cent of them industrialised world have implanted in their teeth, and it's a situation of timed-release poisoning.


VOICE OVER: But animal studies were one thing - what science now  had to prove was chat mercury from fillings in human beings was a  major source of the body's intake of the metal, and that this mercury not only accumulated but stayed inside the body's most sensitive organs.  They cracked that one here, at the University of Arizona.

The university's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology is headed by the world-renowned Professor Vasken Aposhian. He used tablets to draw out mercury in the body's sensitive organs. Students volunteered to take part.

For over a century, dentists believed that mercury from fillings didn't even enter the body. But Aposhian's results, published two years ago, were an astonishing rebuttaL They showed that no less than two thirds of the mercury in the body came from tooth fillings.


PROFESSOR VASKEN APOSHIAN (University of Arizona): I'm worried that the amount of mercury coming from dental amalgams that we're putting in the mouths of young children today might be harmful to them as far as effecting their learning abilities, their performance abilities. I'd hate to think that 20 years from now we will have hurt some of these children when we could have prevented it by proper scientific research, and that is what we must do now.

VOICE OVER: The professor simply doesn't know if enough mercury from fillings enters the body to do harm - but nor is he waiting to find out.

PROFESSOR APOSHIAN: I'd hate to see amalgams in the mouth of my grandchildren, who are 5 years and 8 years of age now, when there are better materials, and I think then are better materials now available.

BBC REPORTER: And safer?


(Vision cuts to BDA interview)

BBC REPORTER: Are you aware of the work of Professor Aposhian, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Arizona?


BBC REPORTER: Not at all?

PETER GORDON: (Shakes head)

BBC REPORTER: Did you know that he had shown that two thirds of the mercury excreted from the human body comes from dental amalgams?

JOHN HUNT: No, I didn't know that

BBC REPORTER: Isn't this, gentlemen, the kind of document that ought to be on your desks?

JOHN HUNT: Yes, I'm surprised that it isn't in the bundle that we havegot, but nevertheless I think that if it were, and if you produced it, we would have had a look at it, and asked our experts to have a look at it, and reviewed the scientific methodology and the interpretation of the findings. We need to have a look at these papers and certainly routinely we do - this one we appear to have missed.

(Vision cuts away from interview)

VOICE OVER: Now even more ominous evidence has been uncovered, this time about the dangers of amalgam mercury in the most vulnerable and sensitive organ of all. It was a dentist in Los Angeles who first discovered from his examination of bodies in the mortuary that mercury from dental amalgam travels to the brain, and the more fillings, the more it accumulates.

Dr David Eggleston is a dentist in California. His clients include Tom Cruise. His less glamorous work recently took him to the county morgue to investigate the relationship between dental mercury and the brains of the dead. Eggleston spent months studying the records, and discovered that mercury from amalgams not only accumulates in the brain, but some of this poison stays in the skull for as long as 40 years.

(Vision cuts to new interview extract)


DR DAVID EGGLESTON (University of Southern California): I think there is legitimate concern regarding the mercury issue in dentistry. Mercury does release from the silver fillings; it does accumulate in the body.

BBC REPORTER: Do you insert mercury amalgam in this practice?

DR EGGLESTON: No, I do not.

BBC REPORTER: For the reasons you've just given?

DR EGGLESTON: For the mercury issue, yes.

BBC REPORTER: And have you had your amalgam fillings removed?


BBC REPORTER: Again, for the same reason?

DR EGGLESTON: For concern with mercury, yes.

(Vision cuts away from interview)


VOICE OVER: So if dental mercury enters and stays in the brain for most of our lives, then what evidence is there that it produces long-term damage? Testing humans for mercury damage over a lifetime would be a notoriously difficult and expensive study. No one has ever tried.

But suddenly researchers are on the verge of a breakthrough. Them dental records of scores of elderly nuns in a convent in Wisconsin may hide pan of the answer to one of amalgam's greatest riddles: is there a link between the mercury in fillings and the deadly disease of Alzheimer's? A unique study, starting files these files, may provide the clues.

These sprightly ladies have made it into a fulfilling old age. They've agreed to take pan in a scientific gamble, by donating their brains to medical researchers, who will look for a positive relationship between dental amalgams and Alzheimer's disease.

Already some scientists are reaching provisional conclusions about the dangers of dental amalgams.

BBC REPORTER: Is there any doubt in your mind about the association between mercury and Alzheimer's?

DR BOYD HALEY (University of Kentucky):  I would not want to make a statement that mercury causes Alzheimer's disease, but there is no doubt in my mind that low levels of mercury present in the brain could cause normal cell death, and this could lead to dementia which would be similar to Alzheimer's disease.

VOICE OVER: Dr Boyd Haley, Professor of Medicinal Biochemistry, has just made a dramatic breakthrough while investigating the implication of dental amalgam in Alzheimer's. He's discovered that even tiny quantities of the metal can produce changes in the brain that are identical to changes caused by the disease. Specifically, the mercury inhibits the efficiency of tubulin, a protein essential to brain cells.

DR HALEY: We can't go inside a living human being and look at their brain, so we have to work outside, and do scientific experiments such as we've done. And to the best that we can determine with these experiments, mercury is a time-bomb in the brain, waiting to have an effect.  If it's not bothering someone when they're young, especially when they age it can turn into something quite disastrous.

BBC REPORTER: So, in the worst-case scenario, what happens to the human being?

DR HALEY: You would become demented.

BBC REPORTER: Although Dr Haley knows there's still no proof of damage, he for one has heard enough.

BBC REPORTER: What did you do about your own fillings?

DR HALEY: I still have one amalgam filling, but when I have them replaced I have them replaced with non-amalgam material.


DR HALEY: Because I'm concerned enough that I don't want it in my mouth. Nor do I want it in the mouths of my children, or my wife.

(Vision cuts to BDA interview extract)


BBC REPORTER: Are you aware of the association between dental mercury  and Alzheimer's?

PETER GORDON: As far I know there is no association with mercury and Alzheimer's.

BBC REPORTER: Are you aware of a paper by Dr Boyd Haley, of the University of Kentucky?


BBC REPORTER: Gentlemen, this was published in 1993 - isn't this a document that should be on your desk?

JOHN HUNT: I come back to the point that we rely on expert advice.


BBC REPORTER: But what kind of advice are you getting if these papers are not being put on your desk so that you can inform your dentists and members of the public?

JOHN HUNT: We look to a group of people, including our consultants, but also we rely upon the Department of Health and other bodies to let us have their results and their advice about results that they would have read in papers.

BBC REPORTER: These are key papers, Mr Hunt, these are very important papers, aren't they? A relationship between dental amalgam and Alzheimer's is not an unserious matter.

JOHN HUNT: No - we should look at that paper.

VOICE OVER: A few dentists who have read the new data now refuse to handle amaLgam at all. The majority who do are warned by their dental associations to deal with it with considerable caution and respect.


Dentist wearing protective clothing

Some even treat it like a journey to a hostile planet. Given  their occupational exposure to dental amalgam, they are taking  sensible precautions. But are all these precautions enough to protect the dentists and their assistants from the mercury  vapour that they'll encounter in the workplace?

One long-established and apparent fact has always consoled dentists who work with amalgam - if it doesn't hurt us, they argue, how can it  harm you, the patient? But in a dramatic new study to be published shortly, even that comforting truth is now revealed as yet another illusion.


A dentist is being tested for his speed of action and reaction as part of a complex assessment of his central nervous system. Dr Diana Echeverria, a neuro-toxicologist, has just completed a remarkable study: she tested American dentists to see whether they have the subtle but dangerous symptoms of mercury poisoning.

DR DIANA ECHEVERRIA (University of Washington): The kinds of things that we have found are: losses in function associated with the ability to move very small things with your hands - a manual dexterity problem; other kinds of really distinct functions concentration, the inability to concentrate. Actually those are skills that anybody needs.


PROFESSOR VASKEN APOSHIAN (University of Arizona): If I were to time how fast you could put this pen into these holes, or similar tasks - normal people might take, let's say, one second to find the right hole and very quickly make the connections. A person with a deficit would take more time, maybe two or maybe even five seconds. In the studies that Diana did, she was measuring things in milliseconds, which is an even more careful approximation of the times.

BBC REPORTER: What are the implications?

PROFESSOR APOSHIAN: The implications are that in the dental technicians the mercury has caused very definite central nervous system disorders.

(Vision cuts away from interview)

VOICE OVER: No one has ever tested human beings who have such a low level of mercury before. Dentists will be alarmed to learn that some of their physical functions and emotions are already being injured by exposure to such small levels of mercury vapour. It's only a question of time and research funds before similar tests are conducted on patients. And to add to the discomforting news, the difference in body mercury levels between dentists and patients is already too close for comfort.

(Vision cuts to interview)

BBC REPORTER: Doctor, is there an overlap between the lowest figure of exposure for dentists and the highest figure for ordinary patients  with quite a lot of amalgam fillings?


DR ECHEVERRIA: Probably, yes.

BBC REPORTER: And does that mean then that a lot of patients are probably suffering the same symptoms that the dentists are suffering?

DR ECHEVERRIA: That's the next research question that we need to ask ourselves, because we don't know for sure. We have indications that comparable effects are appearing just above that range, but the leading question now is whether or nor we have a problem at that lower overlap level.

BBC REPORTER: But that means that at that level, the safety margin is extremely small.

DR ECHEVERRIA: Very narrow, extremely narrow. That's a major concern, that's right.

(Vision cuts to other interview)

BBC REPORTER: Just tell me this - because people will say "OK, that's bad, it takes a microsecond longer to put a pen into a hole." Does it matter?

PROFESSOR APOSHIAN: My greatest worry would be among children. Children are going to school, they are being taught things, they are being taught how to handle living situations, everyday situations, they're being given information that we hope they'll keep in their minds for a better way of life. It is conceivable that, as they're being educated and as they're being trained to do something, their training will not stay with them as long, they may not be able to do things as quickly, and therefore they will not be able to be judged proficient in certain tasks.

VOICE OVER: If you write to the British Dental Association here in Wimpole Street, asking about the safety of amalgam fillings, they'll send you a so-called fact sheet. It covers the subject of children by stating categorically that the evidence available to the BDA doesn't justify banning the use of amalgam in young children. Yet it's precisely the young who are most vulnerable to mercury poisoning.

(Vision cuts to schoolroom)

These children at a Liverpool comprehensive have on average a couple of fillings each. It's easy to demonstrate how the mercury vapour escapes from these small fillings. We invited an expert to bring a mercury vapour tester to check. The air around the fillings is measured. Even without stimulation, some mercury vapour is escaping from the filling. Then the filling is rubbed to simulate chewing, brushing or grinding. This time there's no doubt the mercury vapour has begun to leak copiously, and this is the actual reading the needle goes off the scale.

BBC REPORTER: She's only got one filling, hasn't she?

TESTER: Right.

BBC REPORTER: And if she had eight fillings?

TESTER: There'd be eight times as much.

VOICE OVER: The United States authorities recommend a maximum safe mercury exposure limit of ten micrograms a day. But scientists have discovered that dental amalgams alone can produce between 1 and 29 micrograms of mercury vapour a day. So some people exceed the safety limits for mercury just with their fillings.

(Vision cuts to BDA interview)

BBC REPORTER: Do you believe it is safe to use amalgam in children?

JOHN HUNT (BDA Chief executive): Yes, certainly. I've treated my children with amalgam, and I have no doubt that when they have their own children, they will also require amalgam.

(Vision cuts away from interview)

VOICE OVER: In Sweden, Dr Lars Friberg, the world authority on metals poisoning, remains baffled at the various attempts by dental lobbies to maintain a rearguard defence for a material whose time, he feels, has come.

(Vision cuts to Friberg interview)

BBC REPORTER: British dentists say that there is no evidence that  it shouldn't be continued for use in children.

DR LARS FRIBERG (Consultant, World Health Organisation): Yes. I think there is no basis for such a statement.

BBC REPORTER: Are you saying that children are particularly vulnerable?

DR FRIBERG: They are definitely particularly vulnerable. We know that if you take a young child - it takes a few years after birth until the brain is developed. We know that the brain in children is much more sensitive than in adults.

BBC REPORTER: You don't think that putting mercury into the brain of a child is a good thing at all, do you?

DR FRIBERG: No, I don't think so.


VOICE OVER: But it's not just young children who are at risk. Even the unborn have mercury pollution in their brains from their mother's amalgams. This evidence came to light in a study just completed by Professor Gustav Drasch, a forensic toxicologist. He examined the brains of dead babies and foetuses and found mercury deposits across the placenta into their tiny skulls.

PROFESSOR GUSTAV DRASCH (University of Munich): I think the implications are serious. It is a question of whether or not we have to restrict the application of dental amalgam for women, not only of childbearing age, but even before - because if, for instance, a girl of 15 gets an amalgam filling, this filling lies in her mouth For ten years, all the time releasing some mercury. If this girl gets pregnant, say five years after she has a mercury filling, the mercury goes to the baby. So really the question now being discussed in Germany today is, not to forbid it, but to restrict amalgam fillings for women from, say, 15 to 50 years.

(Vision cuts to BDA interview)

BBC REPORTER: Do you believe it's safe to use amalgam in pregnant women?

PETER GORDON (BDA Scientific Adviser): There's no evidence to say it is unsafe.

BBC REPORTER: But are you saying it's safe to use with pregnant women?

JOHN HUNT: Yes, there's no doubt that the available data we have at present demonstrates that amalgam is just as safe as any other material that we may use for pregnant women.

BBC REPORTER: This is terribly important, isn't it? Mercury crosses the placenta and goes into the unborn child.

JOHN HUNT: Before you say it is dangerous or poses a risk, you have to say that mercury in those places is dangerous. There's no evidence to suggest that, merely because it is found in the kidneys and so on of foetuses and young children, it is a hazard to health.

BBC REPORTER: Do you think that mercury, one of the most toxic metals known to man, is a good thing in the brain of an unborn child?

JOHN HUNT: As far as I know there's nothing to prove that it is causing any damage.

BBC REPORTER: Don't you think that this is something that ought to be put into your fact sheet?

PETER GORDON: I don't see why we should necessarily worry the population at large if there are no proven arguments one way or the other - the fact that it is there and detectable doesn't mean to say that it's potentially doing any damage.

BBC REPORTER: I have to say, gentlemen, that I haven't met anybody who thinks that mercury in the brain of an unborn child is a good thing.

PETER GORDON: But you can probably, with the correct analysis, find a whole lot of other substances in the brain that perhaps shouldn't be there.

(Vision cuts away from interview)


VOICE OVER: As these are the men who give scientific advice to British dentists, it's not surprising that pregnant women are still treated with amalgam fillings despite the possible health hazards to their unborn babies. In Britain they are encouraged to take free treatment on the National Health.


Joe Rich is an ordinary NHS dentist. Like thousands of others, he has been told little about the latest scientific evidence about mercury. He doesn't know that much of it points towards the health hazards of amalgam to vulnerable groups such as the expectant mother in hischair.

(Vision cuts to new interview)

BBC REPORTER: You are happy to place amalgam fillings in the mouths of babies, children and pregnant women?

JOE RICH (NHS dentist): Indeed.

BBC REPORTER: No problem in that respect?

JOE RICH: I have no reason to doubt the efficacy of the treatment and that there are few, if any, dangers to the patient in using it.

(Vision cuts to Friberg interview)

BBC REPORTER: We know that the mercury goes into the brain of the unborn child. Can this - under any circumstances - be a good thing?

DR FRIBERG: No. I would say no. I think that you should try to  avoid to implant toxic metals in the mouth.

BBC REPORTER: Why then does an organisation like the British Dental Association say that mercury is safe for everybody unless they are allergic to it?

DR FRIBERG: Well, I don't know why they say it. That's impossible for me to answer.

BBC REPORTER: You have written a standard textbook on the toxicology of metals, and you don't agree with them, do you?

DR FRIBERG: No I don't.

(Vision cuts away from interview)


VOICE OVER: Sweden is the first country in the world whose parliament has banned amalgam. They've taken the dangers so seriously that amalgam's use will end within three years at the latest, and within six years all mercury will be outlawed. The Swedes have read the writing on the wall and decided to take action. Faced with opposition from the dental lobbies and anxious at the potential legal implications, parliament carefully wrapped the legislation up in a total environmental package. The members of parliament who had pushed for the ban knew what the real targets were.

(Vision cuts to new interview)

BBC REPORTER: People say that the only reason the Swedes are banning dental amalgam is on environmental grounds. Is that true?

SIW PERSSON: (Member of Swedish Parliament): No, really not. It's one reason, but the most important reason is, of course, the health reason.

BBC REPORTER: Why has Sweden been the first country to ban dental amalgam - because there's still no evidence, there's no final proof, that dental amalgam actually hurts human beings?

SIW PERSSON: We said we have seen enough, now we have to stop it before much more people are more sick than they are today.

(Vision cuts away from interview)

VOICE OVER: The use of amalgam in children under the age of 19 will be totally banned exactly one year from now. All amalgam fillings for adults will cease by 1997. The Swedes are fully aware that there is still no proven evidence that dental amalgam harms humans, but they have been reading the latest evidence, and their assessment of the risk/benefit ratio has been changed by it for ever. The health benefits of amalgam, they judge, are no longer worth the risks.

Now other countries are following Sweden's lead. In Germany, amalgam is banned for patients with kidney problems and recommended to be used with great caution in children and pregnant women. Austria plans to ban their mercury amalgams within six years. And in California a new law now demands that dentists who use amalgam display a health warning to their patients.


Degussa, whose headquarters are in Germany, is one of the world's larger manufacturers of dental amalgam. Even they have now decided to get out of amalgam, thus abandoning nearly half their dental-products turnover. They say that there are innocent commercial reasons for this, but one of their executives suggests there's prudence in the decision too.

(Vision cuts to new interview)

BBC REPORTER: You are saying that, despite all this new scientific  evidence, it's a commercial coincidence that you are getting out of amalgam?


DR MATTHIAS KUHNER (Senior manager, Degussar): It was a decision that was driven by business reasons.

BBC REPORTER: Which would include legal reasons?

DR KUHNER: Definitely. When you are looking at a business, legal action can have an influence on your business. It can greatly increase the cost of your business if you have to take a lot of legal action or have to deal with a lot of legal actions, even if you are sure that in most cases or in all cases you come out being found not guilty.

BBC REPORTER: In that sense, surely the writing is on the wall for amalgam?

DR KUHNER: Well, as I said before, I feel that the use of amalgam is going to decline even more in many nations.

(Vision cuts away from interview)

VOICE OVER: Instead, the company is concentrating on making composites - the plastic alternatives aLready used extensively in front teeth. Currently they are not as cheap and durable as amalgams, and Degussa, like many competitors, is hard at work looking for the dream composite that will rival the cost and strength of amalgam.


So is there an acceptable altermative to mercury amalgam? We've learned of a scientific breakthrough in the development of a new mercury-free alloy at this federal research institute near Washington, but they won't let us film inside.

The question is, how can the demise of mercury amalgam be announced without acknowledging that mercury shouldn't have been there in thefirst place? The new material wrapped in commercial secrecy behind these walls will be hailed not as a substitute for amalgam, for reasons of health, but as an improvement on it. This cover story will please the dentists - and the fillings should be safe for patients, too.

(Vision cuts to Eggleston interview)


DR DAVID EGGLESTON (University of Southern California): The material is here and developed. It has to go through trials and research before it becomes approved, and that will take a few years.


DR EGGLESTON: I've been told in some quarters to expect two years for that process to be completed.

BBC REPORTER: Will it be more expensive?

DR EGGLESTON: It will be exactly the same cost - maybe even less expensive. It uses the same equipment for placement and actually has a superior strength once it's in place.

BBC REPORTER: And will it last as long?

DR EGGLESTON: Predictions are that it will last longer, that it has a superior strength.

BBC REPORTER: Let's get this absolutely straight: the reason this new material has been worked on is in order to eliminate mercury from the entire chemistry?

DR EGGLESTON: There's no question. There's no incentive to develop this material other than to get rid of mercury.

(Vision cuts away from interview)


BBC REPORTER: So that's the concern with which the whole amalgam issue is handled overseas. What's Britain doing? Nothing much, really. We had hoped to bring you an interview with someone from the Department of Health, but they refused to talk to us on camera. We would have asked them what, if anything, has changed since 1986, when they last looked at the issue and decided that there was no problem with amalgam. Indeed, they said the controversy didn't even merit research priority. They've just handed us a four-line statement. I've read it, but there's nothing new in it.

But while government ignores the issue, there is a new awareness in some quarters that patients need greater protection against the possible health hazards. Stephen Challacombe is Professor of Medicine at Guy's Hospital in London and one of Britain's top dentists. He has bothered to keep up with the new research, and finds much of it compelling.

(Vision cuts to new interview)

BBC REPORTER: Are you satisfied that amalgam is safe?


PROFESSOR STEPHEN CHALLACOMBE (Guy's Hospital): No, I don't think so. I think the evidence over the last few years has really suggested that we should have another look at the ultimate safety of amalgams.

BBC REPORTER: What do you make of the official government view, the Department of Health view, which is that there is no problem and therefore it doesn't even merit the priority of further research?

DR CHALLACOMBE: I think things have changed. There are a number of very good groups in Europe - in Germany, and in Scandinavian countries of course - who have been very much aware of the environmental effects of mercury and have looked in some detail at possible biological effects from mercury from amalgams. I'm a researcher, I'm a clinical academic, and very keen that we should be absolutely sure of our facts, and there's no doubt in my mind that we should be supporting research in this and other countries. We shouldn't be left behind.

BBC REPORTER: And in that sense you wouldn't agree with the government position at all?

DR CHALLACOMBE: If the government position is still that we don't need research, no, I think that's outdated.

(Vision cuts to BDA interview)

BBC REPORTER: Aren't you in danger of making exactly the same  mistake that was made over lead, asbestos and DDT - that we had to wait for too long, there were too many tragic side-effects before the accumulation of scientific evidence showed conclusively that these were highly dangerous substances?


JOHN HUNT (BDA): Well, we can only rely upon the evidence that we have to date, and I don't think that the amount of mercury that is released - and we know it's released from amalgam restorations - there's no evidence to date that it does cause any trouble.

(Vision cuts away from interview)

VOICE OVER: At Murray Vimy's surgery in Calgary, a young woman anxious to avoid passing mercury to any future child has an amalgam filling extracted. Paradoxically this process has its health hazards too, because the drilling out creates a dangerous surge of mercury vapour - hence all the protective equipment on both sides of the chair. Extraction of fillings is a serious step unless medically indicated - patients should consult their doctors or dentists before making a decision.

(Vision cuts to Challacombe interview)

BBC REPORTER: Professor, can I ask you to in the briefest and simplest way give advice to people who will have seen this film and  who will wonder if they should take their amalgam fillings out? What is your considered advice?


DR CHALLACOMBE: I think it would be premature for people to replace their amalgam fillings. No, the answer is: do not rush to your dentist to have your amalgam fillings replaced. I think there is dearly a need for further research, and when all that is through, in the long term there may be different advice. But there is a danger of doing more harm than good at this stage, so do not rush out and have your amalgam fillings replaced.

BBC REPORTER: In the dark places where men work with mercury, turning old fillings into new, they treat the volatile metal with great respect. Yet those charged with the responsibility of keeping dentists and their patients informed deny these realities by insisting there is still no final proof of amalgam's harm to humans. But in science, absence of proof is not proof of absence. Ask the men who take the risks.


I'm sure you'll agree, it was a VERY interesting programme. Why wasn't something done?





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Copyright Lyn Rennick July 2002-2008 All rights reserved.




The information on this website is provided for educational and information purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents herein; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals.
If you think you may be suffering from amalgam mercury poisoning PLEASE seek profession help and do not try to 'cut corners' by not going to the correct type of dentist, by not chelating and by not following your practitioner's advice completely.

The information on this website is based upon the experiences of the owner and other sufferers who have told freely of their own experiences. All information is believed to be accurate.  Lyn Rennick's AMPS Society cannot be held responsible or liable for anything untoward happening if the reader does not follow any instructions to the letter.