Bugs With New Bite

Dental fillings may be contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance

TOOTH FILLINGS HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF EVERYTHING from picking up radio transmissions to causing learning disabilities. Now comes another charge that could stick: fillings may be partly to blame for the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The real villain is the mercury that makes up about 50% of dental amalgam. In a study reported in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, monkeys with mercury fillings showed a jump in drug-resistant bacteria from 9% to 70%; when the fillings were removed, resistance dropped to 12%. It seems the genes that protect bacteria from mercury lie close to those that protect against antibiotics,...

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