Members of a government scientific advisory committee said Friday they were confident mercury-containing dental fillings are safe for most people.

But they recommended that more research be done to allay fears of the public that the fillings can cause health problems.Mercury is highly toxic. The question of whether mercury in dental amalgams leaches into the body and interferes with the nervous system has been debated for years.

The Food and Drug Administration asked the committee to evaluate the most recent studies.

"We did not receive any information today that would warrant saying that amalgam is unsafe," said Dr. Manville G. Duncanson Jr., chairman of the Dental Materials Department at the University of Oklahoma.

Duncanson is chairman of the FDA's Dental Products Panel.

"There are questions that are unanswered, including the amount of mercury that may leach into the body from amalgam fillings," he said.

"These questions have to be answered. That doesn't mean that we're saying that amalgam is unsafe."

The nine-member panel was unanimous in its recommendation.

Some dentists, researchers and consumer advocates had asked the committee to call for a ban on the use of mercury in fillings.

Animal studies that show significant mercury absorption from dental fillings, and some anecdotal accounts of harmful effects in humans, are compelling and raise important questions, he said. But, he added, no studies have been done in humans and there is no evidence that mercury amalgam fillings cause disease.

At this time, he said, "FDA is not advising people with amalgam fillings to have them removed, either to prevent adverse health effects or to try to reverse the course of existing diseases."

Experts say that a few people, estimated at 1 percent to 2 percent of the population, are allergic to mercury amalgam fillings and should not receive them.