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Mouthful of mercury sparks activist's fight
Jen McCaffery

Marie Flowers made a trip to Maryland earlier this month because she believes she's been poisoned by mercury.

The 56-year-old Bedford County woman attributes medical problems she's had to the 11 mercury-based dental fillings that have been placed in her teeth throughout her life.

Flowers has become an activist on the issue, picketing dental association meetings and the Virginia General Assembly with signs -- and a fake skull, for effect. She was one of many speakers at a public hearing before a panel convened by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Sept. 6 and 7 at a hotel in Gaithersburg, Md.

While not declaring the fillings with mercury dangerous, the panel, after hearing testimony, rejected the FDA's previous report that the fillings are safe, The Associated Press reported. The panel also said more research needs to be done on the topic - specifically into the effects of mercury on fetuses, children and people whose bodies might process mercury in a potentially harmful way.

On Sept. 6, Flowers described to the panel how in 2001, within nine days of her dentist's drilling on a filling to repair it and covering it with a crown, she felt as if her brain were on fire.

She said she later developed dizziness, confusion, memory loss, aching muscles and extreme sensitivities to certain foods and chemicals.

Several doctors she visited could not figure out what was wrong with her.

Then Flowers, a mother of three who has worked as an elementary school teacher and with her husband in prison ministries, said she was tested by a practitioner of alternative medicine and found to have mercury in her system.

She said her body has improved since she had her fillings removed and she has taken medication called DMSA to get the mercury out of her system, but that her head still hurts. She also takes supplements to build up her immune system.

The silver-colored fillings, also known as dental amalgams, can be found in the mouths of millions. The American Dental Association has maintained they are a safe and effective way to treat tooth decay.

"Dental amalgam is accepted in the scientific community as a safe and effective restorative material based on the weight of scientific evidence,"
Dr. Ronald Zentz, senior director of the ADA's Council on Scientific Affairs, testified before the panel. Zentz's testimony was provided by a spokesman for the ADA.

Other scientists and activists, however, question their safety.

"There is no safe level of exposure"
to mercury, said Charles Brown, national counsel for Consumers for Dental Choice, a Washington, D.C.-based group that filed petitions with the FDA which prompted the public hearings.

The concern is that mercury can leak or that vapors can be released when fillings encounter friction or heat. High levels of mercury exposure can harm the brain and kidneys.

The FDA granted the hearings in early April, Brown said.

In late April, Consumers for Dental Choice filed a lawsuit against the FDA, seeking a ban on the use of mercury-based fillings. The group was joined in the lawsuit by a state legislator in Arizona, a dentist in California and groups including Moms Against Mercury in North Carolina and Oregonians for Life.

About a week before the hearings, the FDA released a draft of its working paper on the safety of mercury-based fillings. After reviewing 34 studies, it found "no significant new information" that the fillings harm patients, except in the case of the rare allergy, The Associated Press reported.

After the hearings, however, the outside panel commissioned by the FDA decided that more research was needed into the use of mercury in dental fillings.

The ADA said in a news release that it welcomed the panel's call for additional review of scientific research on the safety of dental amalgam fillings.

"The more well-designed studies that are considered, the better the pool of evidence for making treatment recommendations to patients," ADA executive director Dr. James Bramson said in a statement. "First and foremost, we want scientific evidence to lead the way when it comes to health care treatment."

Flowers has taken her fight against mercury to the Internet, where she
maintains a site called Mercury Poisoned.com

She had pursued a lawsuit against her dentist, but she said no attorneys would take the case because using mercury in fillings is the standard of care in dentistry.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Mercury Poisoned