Mercury Fillings Era Is Ending
The Trenton (NJ) Times published my op-ed on 12/31/08; see below. It begins with this growing inevitability: “The biggest change in the history of American dentistry is about to occur. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the verge of limiting the use of dentistry’s 19th-century foundation-stone, amalgam fillings.”
We thank our friends Cherie Gillen and
Happy New Year. Folks, let’s conclude this fight as winners in 2009.
Charles G. Brown, National Counsel
Consumers for Dental Choice
Ph. 202.544-6333; fax 202.544-6331
Working for mercury-free dentistry
End era of mercury fillings
December 31, 2008
BY CHARLES G. BROWN
The biggest change in the history of American dentistry is about to occur. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on the verge of limiting the use of dentistry’s 19th-century foundation-stone, amalgam fillings. Though promoted as “silver fillings,” this material is 50 percent mercury and only 25 percent silver.
Mercury is, of course, highly toxic; it can cause permanent harm to a fetus, to a child’s developing brain or an adult’s kidneys. The World Health Organization says no safe level of mercury exists. Unlike lead, whose risk becomes acute when the child licks it, mercury is notoriously volatile (it is the only metal in liquid form at room temperature), so its vapors alone can cause neurological or fetal damage. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control warns that mercury from amalgam is “a major source” of mercury exposure to our bodies.
In dentistry’s early days, no alternative existed, except expensive gold. That excuse is over. Composite, a white resin-like material, is interchangeable with mercury amalgam, albeit it takes a few moments longer to implant. That means, for upper-middle-class adults who go to modern dentists, composite is the norm. For children, working Americans, soldiers and sailors, prisoners and others receiving assembly-line dentistry, however, it is still mercury, mercury, mercury. Emmitt Carlton, a
Dental mercury is an environmental hazard. A report by the Mercury Policy Project shows that dental offices are the largest source of mercury in the nation’s wastewater. Hence, dentistry puts an unnecessary burden on taxpayers to clean it up. Prudently, the Corzine administration ordered all dentists, effective Oct. 1, 2007, to install and maintain amalgam separators to catch mercury before it enters
This rule, written by the state Department of Environmental Protection, took another step to reduce pollution, directing dentists, “where appropriate,” to use alternatives to amalgam. Many dentists don’t need to be encouraged to quit; to their credit, between one-third and one-half of
With the pollution, the health controversy and the social-justice disparities, the question isn’t why so many dentists have switched — it’s why so many hang onto this anachronism.
Taking an active interest in the issue is Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Newark, sponsor of a bill directing the state Department of Health and Senior Services to investigate mercury use in dental fillings and to study its health and occupational effects. Also, New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram led the states, with
To protect their babies, pregnant women are warned not to get any unnecessary exposure to mercury, such as to avoid eating tuna. Several years ago, a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that one in eight women of childbearing age is already so mercury toxic she is at risk of having a brain-damaged baby. Imagine if a dentist, instead of using the misnomer “silver fillings,” told a pregnant patient to prepare to receive “mercury fillings.” It is safe to assume she would vacate the dental chair immediately.
So mired in mercury is
Mercury-free dentistry is more than a health and environment issue — it is a workplace safety issue. Largely female and of childbearing age, dental workers are the very persons who should be the most vigilant to avoid exposure to mercury vapors — which happens, sadly, each time a dental worker opens the amalgam capsule.
Fortunately, New Jersey PEOSH is ahead of the nation in the arena of protecting employees from mercury; its standard is for employers to “substitute safer chemicals” for mercury. But PEOSH has not acted on our request to apply its standard to dental clinics at UMDNJ and the state prisons, choosing, to date, not even to issue an alert (an advisory about the law).
The contrast between the Corzine administration’s vigorous environmental policy against mercury and its indifference toward workplace mercury is startling. In its environmental policies,
Charles G. Brown is national counsel for Consumers for Dental Choice. More information on the FDA settlement is on the group’s website, www.toxicteeth.org