GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Some metro Atlantans strongly believe that the mercury fillings most people got as children could be making them sick.
As many as 180 million Americans have more than a half billion teeth restored with fillings made with mercury.
Channel 2's consumer investigator Jim Strickland witnessed a Buckhead dental office become a hazmat zone. Everyone, including Strickland, was in full hazmat gear as Dr. Michaela McKenzie removed a mercury filling.
"Mercury is extremely toxic," McKenzie said. "It's more poisonous than arsenic. And you're putting it in patients’ mouths.
McKenzie said the mercury readings in her 20-year-old patient's mouth were enough to shut down a school. That patient, Elizabeth Tlapapan, wanted to get rid of the brain fog and headaches that had plagued her for year.
"I could start concentrating better. I could start thinking more, stop forgetting a lot," Tlapapan said.
Gwinnett County dentist Ronald Dressler told Strickland that he is a mercury survivor. Early in his career, he believed in mercury fillings, but has since changed his mind.
"There is a volume of science that says that mercury is a poison and shouldn't be used," Dressler said. "There are no studies demonstrating the safety of dental mercury."
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) took five years to consider conflicting research on the issue. In January, the agency denied petitions to ban mercury or declare it a high-risk device. The American Dental Association (ADA) also has defended the fillings as having "established a record of safety and effectiveness."
"Unfortunately, there are some groups that don't accept the science. They like to rely on fear and other factors,” Dr. Ada Cooper said in an ADA video.
The ADA took issue with mercury removal as well.
Its code of professional conduct says that unless the patient is allergic, taking out mercury fillings is "improper and unethical."
Dressler violated that code when he took nine fillings out of Angela Cochran's mouth.
Cochran showed Strickland pictures of herself with rashes all over her face and neck. She told him she was convinced that the mercury fillings caused it.
"Look at my pictures. Call me on the phone. Come and see me. And I will tell you what mercury poisoning can do and will do to me," she said.
Cochran also believes that mercury poisoning caused heart and digestive problems and spikes in her blood pressure. She said she started to feel a difference three weeks after having the mercury fillings removed.
"I had to keep telling myself, ‘You feel better today. I know you feel better today.’ I could actually go down the stairs," she said.
Cochran quickly went from tears to anger when Strickland brought up the FDA's decision to leave mercury fillings alone.
"If they want to call me a crackpot, they can call me a crackpot. I've lived it. I'm not the only person that has been sick from this," she said.