Recently the Berkeley City Council heard testimony about a proposed ban on mercury amalgam dental fillings. A young man named D— M—, shown in the video, told the Council that he had grown up in Berkeley and had gotten mercury amalgam fillings from local dentists. They did not tell him the fillings were dangerous. He attended Berkeley High, Harvard, and finally the clinical psychology program at UC Berkeley — which I know is extremely hard to get into, as he says. They accept about 1 in 500 applicants.
In 2007, three years into the program, he started clenching his teeth. He began to have problems resembling mercury poisoning, such as fatigue and poor concentration. He had to leave the psychology program. Hair tests showed large amounts of mercury. He did not eat unusual amounts of fish, so it’s likely that his fillings were the source of the mercury. By 2012, he could no longer work and pay rent.
I had no idea that teeth clenching and mercury fillings were so dangerous together. A few years ago, I found, to my surprise, that removal of mercury fillings improved my score on the reaction time test I use to measure brain function. At first, I had thought the improvement had other causes. Only when I tested these causes and found no supporting evidence did I look further and discover the improvement had started exactly when I got my fillings removed. After I discovered this, I looked around for other evidence that mercury fillings were dangerous. To my surprise (again), my evidence seemed more persuasive than anything I found. M—’s story is much scarier than mine and supports my conclusion that mercury fillings are dangerous.
Had M— been using my reaction-time test day after day, he might have discovered deterioration on that test before he noticed other problems. The test might have provided early warning. I hadn’t noticed problems with concentration or fatigue, yet when my fillings were removed I got better on my test. Had M— noticed the problem earlier, he might have figured out the cause earlier.
If you don’t monitor yourself as I do — and almost no one does — you are trusting your dentist, your doctor, your food providers, and so on, to be well-informed and truthful about the safety of their products. If the problems aren’t obvious, there is plenty of reason for them to put their hands over their eyes and say “I don’t want to know” about problems with their products. Drug companies have often hidden the dangers of their products and surgeons have hidden the dangers of their procedures. Few people grasp that “evidence-based medicine”, with its disregard of bad side effects, is biased in favor of doctors. (Ben “Bad Science” Goldacre is a prominent example of someone who fails to understand this.) If you monitor yourself you are less at the mercy of other people’s poor science, lies, and motivations that conflict with finding and telling the truth.