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All of us who ate too much candy as children know what fillings are all about. After teeth are drilled to remove all of the decay, a mixture of silver containing metals is filled into the hole. That's why we refer to the metal as "silver fillings." (In recent years non-metalic fillings have also become available.) Well, if the truth be told, those fillings are not really silver, at least not 100% silver. They also contain other metals, including mercury. Mercury helps the mixture remain durable.

There is no question that mercury has toxic qualities. Many federal agencies have acknowledged this as have independent studies. The question is whether dental practices are in any manner adding to the mercury threat.

Charles Brown is a former government lawyer who is now involved in mercury related litigation. Currently, he is battling both the American and California Dental Associations in court over industry practices concerning the use of mercury containing fillings. Attempts by each Defendant to dismiss the litigation have thus far failed, which means the cases are going forward.

In a recent message left for me by Mr. Brown, he warned of a potentially new real estate problem associated with buildings that house dental offices. It appears that sometimes the waste mercury from these practices is not completely captured. As a result, the foundations under some of these buildings may have elevated mercury levels.

If you are purchasing or renting a building that either now contains, or once contained a dental practice, I think that it would be wise for you to hire an environmental consultant so as to ensure that the soil and water, at and under the building, do not contain elevated mercury levels. Why wouldn't you want that peace of mind?

On a related issue: do the metal fillings make people ill? The short answer is that I do not know and the dental associations assert that they are safe. I recently discussed this issue with a dentist who has been in practice for many years, and he told me that he too thinks they are safe. But he also told me that he thinks some people, he believes a very small number, are sensitive to mercury and do become affected when it is placed in their mouths. He told me of a story dating back many years where a patient got double vision and became ill after metal fillings were placed in her mouth. He said that many of the symptoms improved when the metal was removed.

When I heard "double vision," it reminded me of a 60 year old woman who is suing here dentist because she believes she became ill as a result of a large metal filling. She spoke with me over the phone for around 45 minutes and she too told me that she suffers from double vision.

I do not want to identify her because she is in litigation, but this lady is a real fighter. "I was struck with double vision on March 16, 1998, seven days after having an old (large) amalgam filling drilled out of an upper molar due to deep decay beneath the existing filling. At first it seemed that the double vision was an isolated symptom" She was ultimately diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and/or Lupus.

" Shortly thereafter my eyelids started to close and I was tested for Myasthenia Gravis, another auto-immune disease," which was also confirmed. Other symptoms have included a weakening of extremities, loss of equilibrium, cold hands and feet, constant muscle pain in her head, swollen glands, brain fog, short term memory loss and joint and muscle pain.

These are complex cases, and I personally do not know whether mercury fillings have made this person ill. If you are interested in more information from both sides of this controversy, I would suggest that you visit the ADA web site (ada.org) and toxicteeth.net, which has articles and the names of lawyers and other professions addressing the mercury issue.

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