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Is a mouthful of mercury safe?

BY SONYA COLBERG Published: December 12, 2010

People who have silver fillings in their teeth also have mercury in their mouths. The big question is whether the metal is hazardous to humans.

Many dentists and researchers say the mercury is safe. But some scientists blame the mercury on skyrocketing Alzheimer's disease and similar health issues.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel will try to settle the issue following hearings scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday in Maryland.

The panel was formed in response to petitions filed objecting to the FDA's regulation last year saying the mercury in the dental amalgam is not high enough to harm people.

Any mercury is dangerous, and when added to the ground up normal brain cells of deceased people without dementia, it will create the abnormal biochemistry seen in the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers, said Boyd Haley, Ph.D., University of Kentucky chemistry professor.

“There is something increasing the rate of Alzheimer's disease. And I think it's exposure to mercury,” Haley said. Other than from some dental fillings, the mercury also likely came from some vaccinations and coal-powered energy plants, he said.

Alzheimer's disease is growing. About 5.3 million Americans, including 74,000 Oklahomans, suffer from Alzheimer's. The numbers are expected to rise to 16 million and 96,000 respectively by 2025.

Haley said Alzheimer's patients eventually cross a thin red line into dementia.

“And if they are breathing mercury vapor from dental amalgams for 30 or 40 years, it's going to push them across faster,” Haley said.

A scientific literature review published last month in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease concludes mercury may play a role in Alzheimer's development. Authors Joachim Mutter and Richard Deth suggest removing mercury exposure because data strongly suggest a potential causal link between mercury and Alzheimer's.

But Mark Fried, Alzheimer's Association of Oklahoma and Arkansas chief executive officer, said there is a lack of data supporting the idea that mercury plays a role.

“Mercury has not been shown to increase risk for Alzheimer's disease,” he said.

Age is the top risk for developing Alzheimer's, with it affecting one in eight Americans older than age 65, Fried said.

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