The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday that mercury used in silver-colored dental fillings is safe for patients. So the scientists reversed an earlier caution against their use in certain patients, including pregnant women and children.
"While elemental mercury has been associated with adverse health effects at high exposures, the levels released by dental amalgam fillings are not high enough to cause harm in patients," the FDA said, citing an agency review of roughly 200 scientific studies, Reiters reports.
"The best available scientific evidence supports the conclusion that patients with dental amalgam fillings are not at risk for mercury-associated adverse health effects," said Dr. Susan Runner, FDA's dental products director.
She added that in the past 20 years, there have only been 141 problems reported in patients with the fillings, RedOrbit reports.
However, the agency tightened its controls on mercury fillings, classifying the encapsulated amalgams now commonly sold to dentists as Class II devices, deemed a moderate risk, instead of the lower risk Class I devices, WebMD reports.
Meanwhile forms of mercury in other products can be harmful to humans, causing significant brain damage if the amounts are high enough. Scientists caution against eating large amounts of seafood that contain mercury from environmental pollution.
The silvery liquid is also found in compact flourescent lightbulbs, a type of lighting touted as more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs. Improper disposal of the bulbs can leak mercury into the environment, and people should be careful in handling broken bulbs, LiveScience.com reports.