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Dental Amalgam Doesn't Pose Health Risks In Children

vels, such as from industrial exposures, is well established. Possible symptoms of mercury poisoning include irritability, memory loss, tremors, poor physical coordination, insomnia, kidney failure and anorexia.

To help fill gaps in knowledge about the potential risks of dental amalgam, the NIDCR began supporting in 1996 the first two safety trials of amalgam in children. The decision to support the trials stemmed in part from the fact that millions of children receive amalgam fillings each year. But nearly all of the available safety data on mercury exposure involved adults, typically those who worked in environments where the element is present in relatively large doses, such as dental offices.

"It was clear that we needed to determine whether the potential risks of dental amalgam in any way outweigh its benefits, and we needed to make the determination first in children, who may be more sensitive to any adverse effects of mercury," said Tabak.

The two studies, whose results are reported this week in JAMA, are: the New England study, which was undertaken in the urban Boston, Mass. area and rural Farmington, Maine, and the Portuguese study, conducted in Lisbon, Portugal. Each study enrolled over 500 children who had existing untreated decay in permanent posterior, or back, teeth but no previously placed dental amalgam fillings. Each child was randomly assigned to receive either amalgam or composite resin (tooth colored) fillings while participating in the research studies.

All were evaluated for several years thereafter to determine if any health changes occurred, with emphases on IQ changes in the New England study and memory, concentration, coordination, and nerve conduction measures in the Portuguese study.

All the children were subjected to annual standardized tests of memory, attention, physical coordination, and velocity of nerve conduction. Neither did the scientists detect a pattern of decline
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