Silver linings: Holes in federal dental amalgam research are as common as cavities

Silver linings: Holes in federal dental amalgam research are as common as cavities

With the effects of flossing called into question, MuckRock looks to another orthodox practice: mercury fillings

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Edited by JPat Brown

Earlier this week, people with mouths across America were stunned to hear that the lifelong recommendation to floss one’s teeth goes unsupported by research - yet another case testing the assumption that the federal government knows best when it comes to caring for and treating our human bodies, added to a year that saw the fiasco surrounding Theranos and tech-like speculation in our future medical diagnoses and added scrutiny of the role interest groups can play in our impressions of ingestible substances.

Add to the list the ever-ongoing concerns surrounding one of the most controversial dental elements ever to be used: mercury.

Dental amalgams, the commonly-used silver fillings for tooth cavities, have been in use for well over a century, a familiar mixture of the malleable mercury and a powdered alloy designed to conform to the space of the hole. In that time, they’ve increasingly come under fire as common awareness of mercury’s potential danger have seen it phased out from being acceptably present in food, water, and even household thermometers.

And yet the federal Food and Drug Administration, arbiter of acceptable medical devices, continues to find little to warrant the recommendation that they be phased out or not used at all, putting the United States at odds once again with practices in other developed nations that have moved to remove mercury from their mouths.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request for all of the FDA’s studies into the effects of dental amalgams, hundreds of pages were returned primarily highlighting the frustrations of groups opposed to its use.

Hundreds more pages were fully redacted under the infamous b5 exemption.

Adverse event reports, also provided by the FDA, describe dozens of voluntarily-submitted experiences with mercury fillings. Though they note that the submissions are unverified …

they nonetheless paint a curious picture of the reactions people believe they have had to the heavy metal.

MuckRock will be appealing those redactions and submitting further requests to other federal agencies. But, as always, we’d love your help and feedback. Feel free to reach out and make suggestions to us at, on the form below, or on the project page.

Image via Wikimedia Commons