New UN Treaty on Mercury Requires Countries to Phase Down Dental Amalgam

Dental Amalgam

Story at-a-glance -

  • The final mercury treaty session took place in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2013; the final treaty included important provisions to reduce and eliminate mercury pollution, one of them being a requirement for countries to phase down the use of dental amalgam (mercury fillings)
  • The provisions are in line with growing attitudes around the world, where phase-outs of mercury in dentistry have already occurred or have been recommended
  • Amalgams have been banned in several countries, including Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, and largely in Japan; the European Union is also taking steps aimed at reducing mercury usage
  • Pollution and human exposures resulting from the use of dental amalgam have been linked to health risks, including diminishing intellectual capacity, disturbance of microbiological activity in soil, harm to wildlife populations and other destructive environmental effects

By Dr. Mercola

The momentum toward mercury-free dentistry is gaining speed and, it appears, may be set to become a reality in the 21st century.

The final mercury treaty session took place in Geneva, Switzerland in January 2013. There the mercury treaty was finalized, and included important provisions to reduce and eliminate mercury pollution, one of them being a requirement for countries to phase down the use of dental amalgam (mercury fillings).

As Michael T. Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, said:1

“This is the beginning of the end of dental amalgam globally.”

Mercury Treaty Requires Countries to Phase Down the Use of Dental Amalgam

The treaty, which has been under negotiation for four years and could be signed as early as October, will require countries to undertake at least two of the prescribed steps to “phase down amalgam use.” Among those measures listed are these:2

  • 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.

Textbook Example of Citizen Power Challenging Corporate Power

Though we did not yet achieve the phase-out of amalgam, we made progress like never before. Two key goals were achieved that are the next best thing. First, amalgam is the one product with a road map, a step-by-step approach, to reducing its use; it is the only mercury-based product with a plan.

Second, amalgam was kept in the annex, which means that a petition can later be filed to end amalgam altogether. (Had amalgam instead been placed in the body of the treaty instead of the treaty’s annex, this could not happen.) And this is in the biggest forum of them all -- the world stage.

The five treaty sessions -- from June 2010 through January 2013 -- spanned almost 1,000 days. We have witnessed a textbook case for success against the odds. A combination of vision, of hard work, of building a team from six continents, of grassroots support beneath, and of a consistent message paid off.

The success of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, created upon the recommendation of and led by Consumers for Dental Choice, shows that citizen action still can make progress over corporate power.

Countries Around the Globe Already Phasing Out Dental Mercury

The provisions are in line with growing attitudes around the world, where phase-outs of mercury in dentistry have already occurred or have been recommended. In October 2011, for instance, the U.S. State Department 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

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) also asked recipients to support a phase-out of the use of mercury in dentistry, both in the EU and around the world.

The EU has been aggressive in both their intent and actions aimed at reducing mercury usage, and even adopted a mercury strategy in 2005, which contains 20 measures to reduce mercury emissions, cut supply and demand and protect against exposure. The EEB letter came on the heels of a July 2012 European Commission report,3 which also recommended the phase-out of dental amalgam and mercury in button cell batteries.

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European Commission Report: Health and Environmental Concerns Linked to Dental Amalgam

The European Commission report noted both human health and environmental concerns related to dental amalgam:

“…dental amalgam is a significant contributor to overall EU environmental emissions of mercury from human activities. Mercury emitted to the air can be partly deposited into other environmental compartments (soil, surface water, vegetation). Emissions to soil and groundwater are also significant, although their contribution to overall mercury releases to this environmental compartment is more difficult to quantify.

It is estimated that about half of the mercury released from current and historical dental amalgam use remains potentially bioavailable, with the potential to contaminate fish in particular, the other half being either sequestered for long-term (stored in hazardous waste landfills) or recycled for new purposes.

All individuals are exposed to mercury pollution to some degree; however, some groups are particularly exposed and/or vulnerable to the health effects of mercury pollution (principally in the form of methylmercury through diet), such as high-level fish consumers, women of childbearing age and children.

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. More than 70% of the European ecosystem area is estimated to be at risk today due to mercury, with critical loads for mercury exceeded in large parts of western, central and southern Europe.”

The environmental health effects of amalgam are well known and include brain damage and neurological problems, especially for children and the unborn babies of pregnant women. With dental mercury uncontrollably entering the environment from multiple pathways, phasing out amalgam and transitioning to non-mercury alternatives is the only way to reduce – and eventually eliminate – this significant source of mercury that threatens our environment and ultimately our health.

Charles Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice and the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry noted:4

"Countries that have phased out amalgam recognize that mercury-free dental fillings are readily available, affordable and effective.” In response to the mercury treaty provisions, he explained, “This pushes the reset button on dentistry. Now the rest of the world can benefit from the experience of those countries."

Mercury Fillings: A Bit of Background on this Archaic Practice

Under a "drill-fill-and-bill" approach that puts profits above patients, amalgam remains popular with dentists who choose not to get training in modern alternatives. Such protection of the economic status quo makes a smooth transition to mercury-free dentistry all the more difficult. Dentists inexperienced with mercury-free alternatives claim they install amalgam fillings much faster than the primary alternative, composite fillings, but nations like Denmark, which has made the transition, discount the claim that amalgam is more efficient.

So the rationale is to give amalgams as a cost-savings for tight health care budgets. Low-income and middle-income people, people in third-world countries, and our soldiers – even the pregnant ones – get mercury fillings based on this bogus "efficiency" argument. The American Dental Association (ADA) has continued to defend their use, even though amalgam fillings contain more toxic mercury than any other product sold in the United States and safer alternatives, such as resin composite, are readily available.

In response to the mercury treaty phase-down requirements, they even spun a positive news release applauding the fact that people would still be able to get mercury fillings without restrictions.5

This isn’t at all surprising, as the ADA has historically covered up the fact that the term "silver filling" to describe amalgams is profoundly deceptive, as the composite material contains anywhere from 49 to 54 percent mercury, thus should be called mercury fillings not the euphemistic and deceptive term silver filling. At one time they even declared that removing mercury fillings is unethical and many dentists lost their licenses for removing them.

The ADA aided and abetted dental boards to yank licenses from dentists who truthfully told patients that amalgam is mainly mercury and who advised against its use. This was despite the known fact that dental amalgam emits mercury vapor after it is implanted in your mouth, and this mercury bioaccumulates and endangers your health – and the environment -- in many ways.

Mercury Treaty Phase-Down May Signal the End of Dental Mercury Globally

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. Its financial needs are greater than ever, so we ask for your help! 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 can be made online here. Checks can be mailed to:

Consumers for Dental Choice
316 F St., N.E., Suite 210
Washington DC 20002

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