By Dr. Mercola
The U.S. lags behind on banning mercury in dentistry because the FDA has long been the world’s number one protector of mercury fillings (amalgams).
In the U.S., four out of five dental specialists still use amalgams, and the material continues to be endorsed by the American Dental Association, in spite of the fact that 77 percent of consumers would opt for safer fillings if given the choice—even if they had to pay more.
When you factor in environmental and cleanup costs, amalgam is actually the MOST expensive dental material in the world.
For minor cavities, using glass ionomers with Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART) is a less invasive and less painful alternative to traditional fillings.
I am excited to have the opportunity to interview Charlie Brown, one of my legal heroes in the battle against mercury. Charlie has been a major force in the ground roots movement against mercury amalgams.
Although the battle with the FDA rumbles on, we are whittling away at the barriers to progress, “hitting them upside the head” repeatedly with facts they can’t deny. And we have no plans of letting up!
This issue is just too important, too critical to your health and the long-term health of your children.
Mercury is a potent heavy metal toxin that can poison your brain, central nervous system and kidneys.
It is one serious toxin and it personally severely damaged my kidneys when I had my amalgam fillings improperly removed 17 years ago.
Children and fetuses, whose brains are still developing, are most at risk, but really anyone can be impacted.
In fact, just one drop of mercury in a lake would poison the lake to the extent that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would ban it from fishing.
Yet, unbelievably, they let you carry around a mouthful of this toxic metal and would have you believe it somehow loses its capacity to do harm if installed in your teeth.The average person in the U.S. has eight amalgam fillings. Clearly, this is no small problem and calls for urgent action.
U.S. Lags Behind, While the World Moves Forward on Banning Mercury
The FDA has long been the world’s number one protector of mercury fillings, and the U.S. is lagging behind the rest of the world, and even behind some third world countries, in protecting its citizens from this toxic product:
Denmark, Norway and Sweden have essentially banned amalgams
There are 5,636 hospitals in developing countries that are committed to or already mercury-free. The majority of these are in the Philippines, India and Argentina.
Canada advised dentists to stop placing amalgam in children and pregnant women in 1996 (although Canada appears to be regressing on this issue now, thanks to the recent position taken by its Chief Dental Officer Peter Cooney).
In the United States, four out of five dental specialists still use amalgams, and the material continues to be endorsed by the American Dental Association. The FDA’s determination to protect mercury fillings has no doubt had something to do with its commissioner. FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg has an egregious conflict of interest on amalgam, yet participated in the rulemaking that led to FDA’s disappointing ruling in 2009.
Hamburg entered the FDA through the revolving government/private industry door after allegedly making millions as the director of Henry Schein Inc., the largest seller of dental amalgam (mercury fillings). The FDA has a history of stacking the deck of its advisory panels so that the pro-industry, pro-mercury position is upheld. Yet, most recently, the U.S. State Department has called for a “phase down” of mercury fillings, followed by an “eventual” phase out. The State Department’s submission to the Mercury International Negotiation Committee also called for:
Educating patients and parents (about amalgam) in order to protect children and fetuses
Training of dental professionals on the environmental impacts of mercury in dental amalgams
This is a very encouraging turn of events that brings us one step closer to mercury-free dentistry for all. Even though the FDA signed on to this statement internationally, they have yet to change the rule at home, so your support IS still needed.
Amalgams Frequently Used as They Generate More Profit
According to a Zogby poll, 77 percent of consumers would willingly pay more to opt out of dental amalgam in favor of safer dental fillings. If this opt-out occurred, it would effectively reduce the number of patients your dentist could funnel through his office on any given day.
Mercury fillings are quick and easy to put in. It isn’t that composite materials cost more—they just take longer to make. Not only can dentists buzz through a lot of mercury amalgam fillings each day, but these amalgams also require the destruction of quite a lot of good tooth matter, which sets you up for more dental problems down the road… meaning, more dental work, including root canals. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, from a dentist’s perspective.
So, the perceived profitability of mercury fillings has led to what Charlie Brown calls a “drill, fill and bill” mentality.
Fewer patients coming through the door each day isn’t the only issue striking fear in the heart of your mercury-loving dentist. Many dentists are also wary of the possibility that thousands, if not millions, of lawsuits could arise if they—or the FDA—admitted to the damage mercury amalgams have done to public health. Litigation and class action lawsuits could deliver an incapacitating blow to the dental industry.
If we are to gain the support of government regulators and the American Dental Association (ADA), then some protection from liability must be part of the package. This is why the environmental approach is ideal, because it offers some insulation from liability on the part of the dental industry, hopefully making new regulations a bit more palatable and easier to get passed.
Mercury Fillings and the Environment
The ADA and other pro-mercury proponents have always claimed that mercury fillings are a very cost effective way to treat dental decay. But is this true? NOT when you examine the true cost to human health and the environment.
Mercury from dental offices is actually the largest source of mercury found in wastewater. According to an article by Michael Bender (co-founder of the Mercury Policy Project), at least 40 percent of mercury flowing into municipal water treatment plants comes from dentist offices! And urban water treatment plants are not set up to remove it, so eventually this dental mercury will end up in the fish on your dinner plate.
The risk doesn’t end there, however.
Mercury fillings in the teeth of someone who dies actually pose a risk to the living. Emissions from the combustion of mercury fillings during cremation are a significant contaminator of air, waterways, soil, wildlife and food. Seven to nine metric tons of mercury per year escapes into the atmosphere during cremations, and it is estimated that, left unchecked, crematoria will be the largest single cause of mercury pollution by 2020. Sweden now mandates that all mercury fillings be removed prior to cremation for this very reason.
When you factor in environmental costs and cleanup costs, amalgam is actually the MOST EXPENSIVE dental material in the world!
It makes perfect sense to approach legislative change regarding amalgams from the environmental perspective, which is why the mercury treaty has made environmental cleanup its central focus.
A Great Alternative for Fixing Minor Cavities: Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART)
“Drilling and filling” is not the only option for treatment of dental caries. For minor cavities, a less invasive and less painful technique called Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART) has proven quite effective, especially in underserved populations in both developing and industrialized countries. ART involves manual excavation of the decayed area with hand tools, eliminating the need for expensive drills and anesthesia.
Since ART is noninvasive, it is tolerated very well by patients, who experience less pain than with traditional fillings. And the technique has earned the endorsement of the World Health Organization (WHO) who has called it an “acceptable and effective treatment to control and prevent decay in socioeconomically deprived communities.” ART is currently used in at least 25 countries and is a regular part of dental training programs in at least three countries. One major advantage to this less-invasive treatment is that you don’t have to be a dentist to do it. Dental hygienists, dental assistants and other properly trained individuals can perform ART.
The dental industry has been less than eager to hop on board, afraid this would cut into their exclusive cavity-busting monopoly. However, I agree with Charlie Brown that dentists would still make plenty of money from more complicated dental work. In fact, they would probably earn even MORE because the work that only they can perform is more complicated—therefore more expensive to the consumer.
How You Can Keep the Wheels of Progress Turning
We now have two sessions down and three to go for the international mercury treaty. If all goes well, the treaty will be signed in 2013. Once any treaty is signed, it is up to Congress to implement it, and that could take another several years. In the meantime, we must keep pressure on the FDA, and there are some steps you can take to help with this:
Tell your family, friends, and neighbors the truth about dental amalgams. Don’t let your dentist talk you into one for yourself or for your child. It’s not your dentist’s mouth—it’s YOUR mouth. And YOUR pocket book—which holds a great deal of buying power. If your dentist insists mercury is safe, you may want to seek a mercury-free dentist.
Consider writing to the FDA Director of the Division of Dental Devices, Anthony Watson, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask Mr. Watson:
Since the FDA’s own panel of scientists advises that amalgam should “definitely not” be implanted in children, pregnant women, and hypersensitive people, how soon will you take action to protect these vulnerable populations from this toxin?
Since the FDA has a duty to tell consumers that amalgam contains mercury that can damage the neurological systems of unborn babies, children, and hypersensitive populations, when does FDA intend to clearly state this warning on its consumer website and in consumer labeling?
Since Commissioner Hamburg claims FDA is committed to transparency, how does FDA plan to keep the public updated on its progress with regard to the amalgam issue?
Consider joining/donating to the Consumers for Dental Choice, the organization founded by Charlie Brown. It’s a great source for information and a way to stay updated on mercury policy issues.
I encourage you to get involved.