Ask the Doctor: Are Dental Fillings Safe?

Question: My sister-in-law told me that my dental fillings could have caused my child’s learning disability. Is that possible?

Answer: She’s probably heard that mercury, one of the main elements in “silver” fillings, is toxic and can cause neurological problems. Still, it’s not clear how the amount used in fillings affects a fetus. Some studies of pregnant women have shown that mercury is transmitted to the fetus—and one small, nonrandomized study did connect large amounts of mercury in pregnant women with the development of autism in their children. This study raises very concerning questions but needs to be replicated before we can make real conclusions. Unfortunately, the alternative to mercury fillings is composite resin fillings, which are sometimes made with BPA. Clearly, we should be developing greener substitutes.

We can’t know if the mercury in your fillings affected your child’s learning abilities. But it’s potentially risky to remove fillings—this can cause more mercury to enter the body—so it wouldn’t have made sense to have them taken out. What you can do is limit your child’s further exposure to mercury by teaching him to take care of his teeth and avoid the need for any fillings himself.

Lawrence D. Rosen, M.D., is the founder of the Whole Child Center in Oradell, New Jersey, one of the first green, integrative primary care practices in the U.S.

Have a question for Dr. Rosen? 
E-mail him at [email protected]

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