Heavy Metal Poisoning Symptoms: What To Look For

Heavy metals, elements like mercury and lead that are denser than water, are present in many everyday items, particularly if you live in a home built before the 1980s. Acute or chronic exposure can lead to heavy metal poisoning, a serious medical problem.

Heavy metal poisoning occurs when heavy metals build up in the body and negatively affect tissues and organs. Inside cells, heavy metals generate free radicals, causing oxidative damage that can harm or even kill the cells, which causes side effects and health problems.

Metal amalgam fillings are one of the top ways most Americans are exposed to heavy metals. Biological dentists understand the urgency of safely removing these fillings using specialized protocols to keep the patient safe from the heavy metal toxicity of amalgam fillings.

Symptoms Of Heavy Metal Poisoning

The symptoms of heavy metal poisoning can range from mild to severe, depending on how much metal the patient is exposed to and the length of time of the exposure. Common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abnormal heartbeat
  • Anemia
  • Brain damage
  • Changes in mood
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty walking (mercury poisoning)
  • Fever (cadmium)
  • High blood pressure (lead)
  • Impaired kidney function
  • Impaired liver function
  • Kidney damage and/or renal failure
  • Lack of coordination (mercury)
  • Learning difficulties in children (lead)
  • Memory loss (lead)
  • Metallic taste in the mouth (arsenic)
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness (mercury)
  • Nausea
  • Nerve damage (mercury)
  • Neurological problems
  • Numbness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Speech and hearing problems (mercury)
  • Swollen or red skin (arsenic)
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Tingling in hands and feet
  • Vision changes (mercury)
  • Vomiting

What are the symptoms of heavy metals in the body? The symptoms of heavy metal exposure in the body are digestive problems (abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea) and nervous system problems (tingling in hands and feet, numbness, lack of coordination, memory problems).

Statistics On Heavy Metal Poisoning

As societies become increasingly industrialized, the people who live in them are exposed to more and more toxins. Experts estimate that 8.3% of deaths worldwide are linked to poisoning from various chemicals in the environment like pesticides and herbicides.

Many of those deaths can be linked to heavy metal poisoning. For example, an estimated 400,000 people die in the U.S. every year from lead poisoning, most of whom are chronically exposed to low levels of the metal. Even small exposures to heavy metals have consequences.

Common Causes

Heavy metals are present throughout our environment. Some people are exposed to heavy metals occupationally, while others don’t know they’ve been exposed to heavy metals at all.

Here are the most common ways patients in the U.S. are exposed to heavy metals:


Mercury exposure is incredibly common in the U.S., particularly in older individuals with amalgam (mercury) fillings to treat cavities. Oral health has an enormous impact on overall health, and mercury fillings can create life-altering symptoms, particularly neurological symptoms.

Amalgam fillings contain alloys of mercury, silver, tin, copper, and other heavy metals. All of these metals can cause symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, particularly in high concentrations. However, the mercury content gets most of the focus since dental amalgam is about 50% mercury.

Another big way people are exposed to mercury is by eating fish containing high levels of mercury. Eating too much tuna, swordfish, shark, tilefish, mackerel, and other predatory fish can expose patients to high levels of dangerous methylmercury.

Some are exposed to high levels of mercury by using mercury-containing devices and products like mercury thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs, or x-ray machines. Most of these devices contain inorganic mercury, which is dangerous when mercury vapors are spread into the air.


Lead poisoning is particularly dangerous for young children, who are often exposed to higher lead levels because they often put things they find on the ground in their mouths. Ingestion of lead can lead to high blood lead levels, which affect both physical and mental development.

Adults can also experience lead poisoning, usually from occupational exposures. Certain jobs have higher-than-normal lead exposure, including smelting, construction work, and work that involves soldering metals.


Cadmium poisoning often comes from occupational exposure in industries like welding, smelting, and battery manufacturing. High levels of cadmium are also present in cigarette smoke. Some foods can also be high in cadmium, like animal liver, animal kidneys, shellfish, and potatoes.


Arsenic poisoning usually comes from living in a region with high levels of arsenic in its rocks and soil. However, arsenic exposure can also originate from pesticides, some seafood and algae, apple juice, and even rice, which is why the CDC recommends monitoring rice intake.

What are some examples of heavy metal poisoning you might see in the United States? Some examples of heavy metal poisoning you might see in the United States are lead poisoning (from lead paint and pipes) and mercury poisoning (from amalgam dental fillings).

Patients can also get heavy metal poisoning from antimony, chromium, cobalt, copper, lithium, manganese, phosphorus, thallium, tin, zinc, and other metals.

Heavy Metal Poisoning Treatment

Heavy metal poisoning is very serious, which is why it’s crucial for patients with high heavy metal levels to receive prompt treatment. Without treatment, the debilitating adverse effects of heavy metal poisoning can become permanent.

Short-term exposure to high concentrations of heavy metals can be life-threatening. And while they’re less well-known, there are significant long-term effects to low levels of heavy metal exposure.

What are the long-term effects of heavy metal poisoning? The long-term effects of heavy metal poisoning are neurological, pulmonary, and muscular problems and even cancer.

What can happen if you don’t get treatment for heavy metal poisoning? If you don’t get treatment for heavy metal poisoning, digestive problems, heart problems, and permanent neurological damage can happen.

According to the National Organization for Rare Diseases, chelation therapy is the most common treatment for heavy metal poisoning. Chelating agents like EDTA bind to heavy metals and allow the body to safely excrete them so they can’t cause any more damage.

Only use chelation therapy under medical supervision. Chelating agents will also bind to ions like calcium that your body needs to live, and unsupervised consumption of chelators can cause dangerously low calcium levels in the body.

It’s also important to remove the source of the toxic metals. Otherwise, the patient will continue to be exposed and potentially become poisoned again. In the case of mercury amalgam fillings, the amalgam will continue to release mercury and other heavy metals until it’s removed.

Removal of Amalgam Fillings

Mercury amalgam fillings should only be removed by a dentist specifically trained in the safe removal of amalgam fillings. If a practitioner without proper training removes amalgam fillings, the patient and the dental staff can be exposed to highly toxic mercury vapors.

Safe and proper removal of mercury fillings is an intensive process that requires specialized equipment and experienced dental professionals. These specialists know how to carefully remove the amalgam without releasing mercury vapors into the procedure room.

Working with a trained dentist to remove amalgam fillings is one of the best dental care choices patients can make for their mouths and overall health. This procedure will eliminate chronic exposure to toxic metals, which means the side effects may go away, too.

Extreme cases of heavy metal poisoning from amalgam fillings may require both chelation therapy and filling replacement. But chelation therapy alone won’t solve the problem if the source of the heavy metal is still in their teeth.

Because you’re exposed to the highest mercury levels when fillings are placed and removed, talk to your holistic dentist about blood tests for mercury poisoning first. If you don’t show signs of mercury exposure, eliminating the fillings can be an unnecessary exposure risk.

Pro tip: When detoxing mercury after having an amalgam filling removed, eat a lot of cilantro. Cilantro may support your body’s mercury detoxification process.

How long does metal poisoning last? Metal poisoning lasts until it is medically treated. If a patient does not receive treatment for metal poisoning, the side effects of metal poisoning can become permanent.

Concerned about metal fillings? Book today.

If you’re concerned that you’re experiencing side effects of mercury amalgam fillings, we can help. Our dentists at Rejuvenation Dentistry are specially trained in advanced amalgam filling removal techniques that keep you safe and keep mercury out of the environment.

Mercury filling removal isn’t something that all dentists can do safely. A dental practice needs special barriers, air filters, and other tools to contain the mercury in the fillings, and dentists need to be trained to safely remove the amalgam.

Removing mercury fillings is one of our specialties at Rejuvenation Dentistry. To learn more about our filling removal services and why we’re industry leaders in amalgam filling removal, click here to schedule an appointment at our Manhattan or East Hampton offices.

Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned biologic restorative dentist with more than 40 years of clinical practice experience.

He studied neuroscience at Colgate University and attended dental school at the New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry where he now serves as Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Cariology and Comprehensive Care.