Consumers for Dental Choice Shakes up the Debate on Dental Mercury
August 19, 2012
By Charlie Brown
Consumers for Dental Choice
"I do not approve the practice of any who use mercury or quicksilver as an ingredient for stopping teeth, and would not privately recommend any one to go to such."
– Eleazar Parmly, M.D.
Dr. Eleazar Parmly's warning about the dangers of amalgam fillings was not issued in 2012…nor even in 1912…he spoke these words way back in 1845. Over 150 years later, health professionals still voice those same concerns about amalgam – a product that is 50 percent mercury by weight. Over 150 years later, some dentists (albeit an ever-dwindling number) still claim that mercury is safe in people's mouths. Over 150 years later, even children are still subjected to the unnecessary exposure to mercury fillings.
Enough is enough.
The time for debate is over. Countless studies, reports, and articles now conclusively prove that dental mercury is dangerous in the environment. And Consumers for Dental Choice is working with our colleagues from the dental, medical, and environmental sectors to make sure everyone knows it.
How Dental Mercury Harms Your Health—Even if You Don't have Amalgam
If you subscribe to Dr. Mercola's newsletter, by now you know that mercury is never safe – it is a neurotoxin, a reproductive toxin, and absolutely unneeded in 21st century dentistry. When you've been given a choice, you choose mercury-free fillings for your teeth and for your children's teeth. So are you safe from dental mercury?
Unfortunately, no. Dental mercury is so toxic in the environment that it affects our whole planet…our nations…our communities…and individuals.
Amalgam fillings are one of the largest consumer uses of mercury in the world. Between 313 and 411 tons of dental mercury are consumed each year. In fact, the demand for dental mercury is higher than the demand for almost all other mercury products – more than lighting (120-150 tons), electrical devices (170-210 tons), and measuring devices like thermometers (300-350 tons). As other mercury products are being phased out, amalgam is fast becoming the largest source of mercury pollution from products.
Some dental mercury is dumped directly from the dental office into the environment. But most dental mercury walks out of the clinic in people's teeth. From there, dental mercury enters the environment by numerous unsound pathways. For example, dental mercury is polluting:
- AIR via cremation, dental clinic emissions, sludge incineration, and respiration; and
- LAND via landfills, burials, and fertilizer.
- WATER via dental clinic releases that go down the drain and human waste;
Once in the environment, dental mercury can convert to its even more toxic form: methylmercury. Ever wonder where all that mercury in fish and seafood comes from? Mercury fillings are one source of mercury contaminating the fish and seafood that we eat. The environmental health effects of dental mercury are well known: brain damage and neurological problems, especially for children and the unborn babies of pregnant women.
How Consumers for Dental Choice is Fighting for Your Right to a World Free of Dental Mercury
Two years ago as the mercury treaty negotiations loomed, Consumers for Dental Choice started highlighting the environmental harms caused by amalgam. This powerful approach is paying off at the mercury treaty sessions -- and turning the tide in nations around the world.
Among our recent steps forward:
- Citing the upcoming mercury treaty specifically, as well as the environmental concerns we too have been voicing, the New York University College of Dentistry announced a new "amalgam policy" to its students: NYU will no longer recommend dental amalgam as the primary posterior tooth restorative… nor will NYU require students to perform competency examinations for amalgam…nor will NYU allow amalgam use in its clinics unless students obtain faculty permission for a specific case. These measures take NYU closer to the ultimate goal: to become "amalgam-free."
- Across the Atlantic, we had equally exciting news. The European Union had hired a consultant to advise it on what to do about amalgam. Our World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry teamed with European Environmental Bureau, Zero Mercury Working Group, and Non Au Mercure Dentaire to submit information and to testify. The consultant now recommends a total phase-out of amalgam in the 27 nations of the E.U.1 -- for the same environmental reasons our team has been explaining. Much work remains to be done here, but we are already mobilizing our forces for that battle.
- While our opponent was trying to turn the 4th mercury treaty session (held in Uruguay) into a never-ending debate on health, we succeeded in keeping amalgam in the draft treaty by emphasizing amalgam's known environmental harms and by offering practical solutions. As a result of this environmental strategy, our support from government officials and influential organizations from around the world continues to grow.
Amalgam: One of the Costliest Dental Options Available
Consumers for Dental Choice is fighting so that every child can grow up in a dental mercury-free world. To do this, we are working with top experts to highlight the dangers – and high cost – of mercury fillings.
For example, we commissioned Brussels-based Concorde East/West, an international consulting firm that provides research to government agencies, to study the cost of dental mercury compared to the costs of mercury-free fillings. The landmark economics report The Real Cost of Dental Mercury2 (2012) reveals that after environmental costs are taken into account, amalgam is significantly more expensive than the non-mercury alternatives. In fact, the real cost of an amalgam filling is up to $87 more than a composite filling after the environmental costs of each material is considered.
Co-released by Consumers for Dental Choice with the Mercury Policy Project and the European Environmental Bureau, the report goes on to explain that both the environment and society are adversely impacted over "the whole life cycle of dental amalgam – mercury production, preparation of filling materials, removal of old fillings and placement of new ones, environmental and health impacts from mercury recycling, discharges to wastewater, solid waste disposal, emissions from crematoria and releases from cemeteries." The solution: "phasing out amalgam as a dental restorative material and switching to mercury free alternatives."
The pro-mercury dental associations have long spread the myth that mercury fillings are cheaper than the many mercury-free options such as composite. As stated by Charlie in the featured interview:
"The reason the pro-mercury dentists use amalgam is the profits. They make more per filling, per chair, per day... They do this because they don't pay for the environmental damage. It's the rest of us who have to pay for the huge environmental damage caused by the irresponsible pro-mercury dentists."
Now, we are prepared to counter them with hard numbers.
So who pays the high costs associated with dental mercury pollution?
- Taxpayers, who pay for the clean-up of dental mercury
- Governments, who pay the administrative costs of dental mercury pollution clean-up
- Fishermen, who lose income when dental mercury contaminates seafood
- Funeral home owners, who pay for abatement equipment to address dental mercury from crematoria
- Landlords, who are left with mercury in dental clinic pipes
- Farmers, who cannot use sludge contaminated by dental mercury as fertilizer
- Environmentally-responsible dentists, who are at a competitive disadvantage because they do not use mercury
- Manufacturers of alternatives, who are at a disadvantage against competitors selling polluting mercury products
- Job seekers, who lose opportunities for work making, developing, and distributing the mercury-free alternatives to amalgam
- Wildlife, which is contaminated by dental mercury pollution
- Tourism workers, who lose revenue when the natural environment is harmed by dental mercury pollution
- Pregnant and nursing women, whose unborn and newborn babies are exposed to dental mercury pollution
- Children and parents, who pay for neurological damage resulting from dental mercury pollution
European Commission Recommends Phasing Out Amalgams to Save Environment
As mentioned earlier, a recent report created by the BIO Intelligence Service (BIOS)3 for the European Commission recommends phasing out dental amalgam and mercury in button cell batteries by 2018 in order to protect the environment from continued devastating harm. According to the authors, dental amalgam is "a significant contributor to overall EU environmental emissions of mercury from human activities." The situation is identical in the US.
According to the report:
"The current levels of mercury pollution in the EU are such that all the EU population is exposed to mercury above the natural background level and certain population groups such as high-level fish consumers, women of childbearing age and children are subject to high risk levels, principally due to their high exposure and/or high vulnerability to mercury in the form of methylmercury, which is ingested through the diet.
This presents a risk of negative impacts on health, in particular affecting the nervous system and diminishing intellectual capacity.
There are also environmental risks, for example the disturbance of microbiological activity in soils and harm to wildlife populations. The effects of mercury releases on the integrity of the ecosystem are substantial. Various species, especially eagles, loons, kingfishers, ospreys, ibises, river otters, mink and others that rely on fish for a large part of their diet, have been observed to suffer adverse health and/or behavioral effects.
Observed disorders such as effects on the muscles and nervous system, reduced or altered mating habits, ability to reproduce, raise offspring, catch food and avoid predators have been demonstrated to affect individual animal viability and overall population stability.
According to calculations based on the critical load concept, more than 70 percent of the European ecosystem area is estimated to be at risk today due to mercury, with critical loads of mercury exceeded in large parts of western, central and southern Europe."
How You Can Help Fight Dental Mercury
Right now, you can help progress against dental mercury in two ways:
- Write a letter to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), asking them to take action against harmful mercury pollution, and
- Make a donation to Consumers for Dental Choice, to help them fight for your right to mercury-free dentistry
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has done more to protect us from mercury than all other EPA administrators put together. She has written strong rules addressing mercury in air pollution. When you write, please thank her for her diligent work against mercury, and urge her to turn her attention now to dental mercury, as it is a major source of mercury in the environment.
Please remember that the EPA does not regulate the safety of health products, so do not discuss how amalgam in the mouth is damaging. The EPA’s role is to keep toxins out of the environment, so focus your correspondence on the environmental impact of dental mercury. This is where she has the authority to act.
Actual letters in the US mail have more impact that emails, so we encourage you to write and mail a letter! Please send it to:
Lisa Jackson, Administrator
Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20460
If you send an email, send it to Administrator Jackson at: Jackson.LisaP@epa.gov. To get noticed, emails need a good subject line; we recommend something like “Take action against dental mercury.”
Consumers for Dental Choice and its allies have made amazing progress against this primitive, polluting mercury product, but the battle is not won yet – dental mercury is still being dumped in nations all around the world…and in your own community. Will you please consider a donation to Consumers for Dental Choice, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advocating mercury-free dentistry?
Donations are tax-exempt and can be made online at www.toxicteeth.org. Checks can be mailed to:
Consumers for Dental Choice
316 F St., N.E., Suite 210
Washington DC 20002
Thank you for supporting mercury-free dentistry!