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Focus on fillings: a qualitative health study of people medically diagnosed with mercury poisoning, linked to dental amalgam

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Jones LM. Focus on fillings: a qualitative health study of people medically diagnosed with mercury poisoning, linked to dental amalgam. Background: 

This paper reports a qualitative investigation of people who have considered removing their dental amalgam fillings following a medical diagnosis of mercury poisoning. Objective: 

To document themes from patients' collective, subjective experience; and explore links between illness and dental amalgam. Methods: 

Seven focus groups involved 35 participants selected by random, criteria sampling from the computerized patient records of one medical practice. Results: 

The participants' experiences represented four scenarios, each with a distinct pattern of presenting illness, and developmental path for health beliefs linking mercury and illness. When discussing health outcomes following their diagnosis of mercury poisoning, 29 of the 32 participants who had begun amalgam removal reported enduring health gains. Participants compared sources of information on mercury poisoning, and explored issues related to medical practice: the focus on symptoms and not aetiology; how symptoms were monitored; the stigma of a psychosomatic label; suicide; and the problematic detoxification process. Conclusion: 

The placebo effect and reduced galvanism as explanations for recovery are considered. A ‘toothless body’ metaphor is proposed as a possible explanation for missed diagnosis of mercury poisoning. Participants reported that the experience was costly both financially and socially, and wanted health professionals to be more open to considering mercury in a causal role for chronic illness.

Keywords: dental amalgam; health beliefs; mercury poisoning

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Psychology, Massey University (Wellington Campus) New Zealand

Publication date: June 1, 2004


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