By Dr. Mercola
Mercury is a potent heavy metal toxin that can poison your brain, central nervous system and kidneys. Children and fetuses, whose brains are still developing, are most at risk, but anyone can be adversely impacted.
It’s considered such a potent toxic pollutant that just one drop of mercury in a lake would poison the lake to the extent that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would ban fishing in it.
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 once it’s put into your teeth.
The average person in the US has eight mercury fillings, falsely referred to as “silver” fillings. This misleading label, named “silver” after the color of the material, opposed to the actual ingredients, has been purposely used to keep you in the dark about the composition of the fillings. Clearly, this is no small problem and calls for urgent action.
Charlie Brown, a former attorney general for West Virginia, is the executive director of the non-profit foundation Consumers for Dental Choice, and one of our esteemed Health Liberty Alliance partners. He also serves as the president of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry.
He recently held a press conference, calling for one of the largest manufacturers of amalgam fillings, DENTSPLY, to stop making amalgam in the interest of human and environmental health.
Dental Amalgam is a Major Source of Environmental Mercury Pollution
DENTSPLY is a major manufacturer and aggressive marketer of mercury fillings. The company is also one of the world’s major mercury polluters.
“They certainly make good dental equipment,” Charlie says. “They make all the other dental materials. They don’t need to sell amalgam – it’s a tiny part of their profits – but they do so anyway. They are ignoring their duty as a good citizen for the environment.”
Amalgam contributes an estimated 10 percent of environmental mercury pollution, which means that amalgam manufactured by DENTSPLY and other major manufacturers is in fact causing direct harm to the environment. Mercury from dental amalgam is released into the air when people are cremated, for example. It also enters soils and waterways, where it becomes a major contaminant of our food supply.
“As a farmer said at that news conference in York, Pennsylvania, “I’m not giving you mercury at your table... But you are getting mercury at your table, because the mercury from the dental offices gets into our sludge and then to our vegetables.”
The sad fact is that, as Charlie mentions, American tax payers pay the cost that dentists are causing by polluting your environment with mercury. It’s time the pro-mercury dentists either stop using amalgam, or pay for the damage they’re incurring. Truly, any responsible dentist in today’s day and age would simply stop using amalgam, and any responsible corporation would stop making it.
“That’s why DENTSPLY needs to have a phase-out plan and needs to tell the dentists, “We’re going to stop making amalgam after this date and get out of that business,” Charlie says.
Success! Dental Mercury Included in International Mercury Treaty
Over the past three years, Charlie Brown has had the opportunity to work on the United Nation’s mercury treaty. The five treaty sessions -- from June 2010 through January 2013 -- spanned almost 1,000 days. In the end, despite fierce lobbying against it by the World Dental Association, dental amalgam was included in the treaty, and every country that signs this treaty will be required to start phasing down the use of dental amalgam.
This is no small feat considering how hard the World Dental Association fought against it, asking the delegates to leave amalgams out of the treaty, or if they put it in the treaty, to limit the measures to talk about cavity prevention like brushing your teeth.
“If the World Dental Association was that concerned about prevention, they wouldn’t be taking all this money from the major candy makers,” Charlie says. “[W]e were successful in part because of your readers,” Charlie told me. “We want to thank them because many people in the United States, all over the English-speaking world, every country in the world, people helped us. People went to their government leaders and said, “We ought to put amalgam in this treaty.” By the message you’ve gotten out, the people watching, listening, and acting – writing the letters, sending the emails, helping us with our financial needs – have all helped lead us toward getting this treaty...”
The treaty will require countries to undertake at least two of the prescribed steps to “phase down amalgam use.” Among the listed measures are:
- Setting national objectives aimed at minimizing (amalgam) use;
- Promoting the use of cost-effective and clinically-effective mercury-free alternatives;
- Encouraging professional societies and dental schools to educate and train dental professionals in the use of mercury-free dental restoration; and
- Encouraging insurance policies and programs that favor the use of quality alternatives to amalgam.
Interestingly, DENTSPLY is already planning its exit from Europe. According to Charlie, they’re sponsoring a conference in Europe in the summer, in which they’ll discuss the transition into mercury-free dentistry. Now, if the children of Europe are no longer getting mercury in their mouths, why should the children of North and South America, Africa, or Asia still be getting mercury?
Why is the FDA Refusing to Look Out for American Children’s Health?
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the federal regulatory agency responsible for regulating the safety of dental materials, specifically mercury amalgam. But since its inception, which is well over 100 years now, the agency has maintained the stance that dental mercury is safe—a stance that goes against the evaluation of their own scientists.
In 2010, a panel of FDA scientists made it clear, for the second time, that amalgam is not safe and should not be used in children and pregnant women. The year after, FDA’s Director of the Center for Devices, Jeffrey Shuren, was videotaped promising that the agency would make a determination on amalgam by the end of 2011. As of this writing, in July 2013, we’re still waiting for the FDA to make a decision...
“The FDA simply, somewhere along the line, sabotaged its own promises. This is not the first time – this is the third or fourth time – that the FDA has made specific promises to act on amalgam and then walked away,” Charlie says.
Part of the problem stems from the revolving door between industry and the regulatory agencies. The current FDA Commissioner, Margaret Hamburg1, came to the FDA from Henry Schein, Inc., the largest distributor of mercury amalgams in the United States.
“When she left, she was given a couple of million bucks by Schein,” Charlie says. “She sat on their board... because of this infamous revolving door that hurts us all so badly. When the Republicans are in power, the Democrats are given these corporate positions and vice-versa. When the Democrats returned to power, Hamburg returned to government, and got this tremendous appointment. “
She promised in writing that she would sell her Henry Schein stock before leaving the company, but she never did. Instead, she held on to her stock options until they gained in value—which they did since her position as commissioner favored Henry Schein’s stock. She also continued communications with the company—a fact revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request. One communiqué from Henry Schein’s council stated they would be “indebted” to her after the 2009 amalgam ruling, which kept amalgam on the market. As a result of relationships such as these, the FDA has entered into a perpetual state of inertia with respect to its position on protecting the public from the damage of mercury amalgams, whereas other countries are taking a strong stance against it.
Think the American Dental Association Protects Your Child’s Health? Think Again...
Another important variable that’s keeping the profitable scheme of amalgams going is the American Dental Association (ADA). As explained by Charlie, the iron triangle that keeps amalgam in business are:
- The American Dental Association (ADA), whose members profit from the recommendations of the Association
- The dental licensing boards, which have historically enforced the gag rule, telling dentists to stay mum on the issue of mercury in amalgams and reinforcing the use of the misnomer “silver fillings,” and
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The ADA used to own patents on amalgams, which in and of itself is a powerful commentary on the relationship between amalgam and the ADA, although those patents have now expired.
It’s also worth noting that the AdA’s Seal of Acceptance is not based on some measure of superior quality or safety. No, the ADA’s Seal of Acceptance is basically a pay-to-play system, in which the ADA endorses a product in return for financial contributions. Charlie recounts a business school case study from the 1950s, prior to which the ADA actually opposed toothpaste, saying people won’t go to the dentists if they use toothpaste! Then, the ADA decided to accept money from Crest, which led to Crest toothpaste becoming the largest toothpaste seller in the US. It’s a powerful business school case study demonstrating the power and value of securing a trade group endorsement.
Other Nations Forge Ahead to Protect Health and Environment
Amalgams have been banned in several countries, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, and largely in Japan. And in a 2012 letter to European Union (EU) member state representatives and dental experts, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) asked recipients to support a phase-out of the use of mercury in dentistry, both in the EU and around the world. Ten years ago, Australia told its dentists to stop using amalgam in children. Canada did the same in 1996. In 1998, the UK decided to stop using it in pregnant women to protect the developing fetus.
All of these countries began tackling the issue by deciding to protect children first. Now, however, the impact of mercury fillings on the environment is taking a front seat, and this may finally be what saves the children of the US from compromised regulators hell-bent on protecting financial interests over people’s health.
“The consultant to the European Union has recommended amalgam be phased out in five years purely for environmental reasons,” Charlie explained. “At the hearing, it was amusing because the British Dental Association kept saying, “But amalgam is safe.” To which the [EU] consultant said, “We aren’t even talking about whether it’s safe or unsafe. That’s not our decision. Our decision is it’s environmentally disastrous – [the discussion] is over.” So the health issue is no longer on the table as a factor either way, and the environmental decision is something that dentists have no expertise over.
The effect on the United States will be huge. The FDA always likes to brag, “We are the gold standard for health, safety, and food. We’re the tops in the world.” Well, if other countries keep going past the FDA, it’s no longer the gold standard. If Europe gets out of the amalgam business, it’s time for the FDA [to follow suit].
Charlie goes on to commend other parts of the US government for doing the right thing, such as the US State Department, which argued for a strong treaty that included amalgam. Besides the treaty, which will have the power to phase-down amalgam use worldwide, Charlie points out another important strategy within the US: Many agencies of the government deliver dental care directly, such as the Department of Defense, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Veterans Administration, and the Bureau of Prisons.
“We’re going to urge them to start phasing down and phasing out amalgam from direct services,” he explains. “The FDA can’t stop that. Once you work on the services you deliver directly, you set an example everywhere else. I think that’s where the United States could start – with an example – and that is something the FDA would have no power to stop.”
Setbacks in Philadelphia Demonstrates Perversion of Justice System
Philadelphia councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown wrote a law that requires a fact sheet to go to every dental patient, disclosing the risks of mercury amalgam. This infuriated the dental association, which opposed the law. Since the passing of the law, the dental association has successfully opposed its implementation, which demonstrates an interesting perversion of the justice system. Because while outright disobeying a law typically carries a punishment, simply not enforcing the law does not carry any specific penalties.
“We’ve got to realize that often after a law is passed, when many of us think “We did it’... bureaucrats can sabotage the laws,” Charlie says. “That’s what happened in Philadelphia. The fact sheet is required under the law to be on the city website; to be listed so dentists can download it and give it to patients. Patients can just read about it. Interest groups, health groups, and environmental groups can read about it.
Well, the City of Philadelphia Department of Health took the fact sheet off of the website. We discovered it. It’s hard to discover something that isn’t there, but my assistant, Silvia Dove, did that research and found that out. We brought it to the attention of the city. They said, “Okay, we’ll put it back up.” But the damage has been done. Now we don’t know if they’ll take it off again.
The commitment of the city of Philadelphia to enforcing its fact sheet law is highly in doubt. Because if they won’t even put the fact sheet on its website, as is legally required, the message to the dentists, to the Philadelphia County Dental Society is, “We’re not really enforcing this law. Don’t worry about this law.” It’s troubling that the city health department has this attitude, which they’ve had all along. I mean, the commissioner said to the dental society – we have this on tape – “Well, if you don’t like the fact sheet, you can always write one of your own.” That’s pretty irresponsible. The people are losing on this.”
How You Can Help Fight Dental Mercury
An estimated 40-50 percent of dentists in the US no longer use amalgam. That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. I urge you to get involved in this issue to help us phase out amalgams entirely. DENTSPLY is a leading manufacturer of mercury fillings – and it’s time to tell them to stop.
The ADA and other pro-mercury groups will undoubtedly continue their crusade to keep dental amalgam – a primitive polluting product -- in the forefront of 21st century dentistry. So even though the mercury treaty provisions are a major step forward in the phase-down and eventual phase-out of this toxic substance, support for Consumers for Dental Choice, which has worked to educate the government about dental mercury pollution and the many mercury-free alternatives to amalgam, is now more important than ever.
Consumers for Dental Choice leads the battle for mercury-free dentistry both in the United States and worldwide. Please consider a donation to Consumers for Dental Choice, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to working for mercury-free dentistry for every child and every adult.
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!