By Dr. Mercola
October 2013 has been a momentous month in the fight against dental mercury fillings, or amalgam. On October 10, a legally binding international treaty to control the use of this toxic metal was signed into action – and thanks largely to the work of The Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry, the project organized and led by Charlie Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice, the treaty gives special attention to amalgam.
Making the signing even more poignant, it was signed in Minamata, Japan, a city where hundreds of residents have died, and thousands have become ill, due to poisoning from excessive mercury exposure over a more than 50-year period.
It’s Official: The International Mercury Treaty
It took a three-year campaign encompassing five negotiation sessions with all the nations, 15 regional sessions, dozens of papers and reports, and hundreds of meetings with individual governments… but the hard work paid off.
The treaty, named the United Nations Minamata Convention on Mercury, requires the phasing out of many mercury-containing products, including thermometers, by 2020, and also calls for an end to all mercury mining within 15 years.
Importantly, the treaty is being hailed as marking the beginning of the end for dental amalgam around the world, as it mandates that each nation phase down amalgam use.
Specifically, each country must do at least two phase down steps listed in the treaty. The most constructive and efficient of those phase-down steps are:
- Promote mercury-free alternatives
- Change dental school curriculum and re-train dentists
- Encourage insurance programs to favor mercury-free dental restorations over amalgam
According to Charlie Brown, the treaty means:1
“ …dental amalgam is neither appropriate nor practical in the 21st century… Mercury fillings – amalgam is 50% mercury – have no future, on any continent."
The treaty takes effect after its ratification by 50 nations, which can take three or four years. But the advocates are not sitting back and waiting; the Zero Mercury Working Group, has launched a campaign to get it ratified by 50 nations – and hence take effect – in just two years.
Tribute Paid to Those Killed by Mercury Pollution
The signing of the treaty was marked by a tribute to the multitude of Japanese people who were killed or suffered debilitating neurological harm from exposure to mercury pollution. Mercury is a potent heavy metal toxin that can poison your brain, central nervous system and kidneys in extremely low concentrations.
Children and fetuses, whose brains are still developing, are most at risk, but anyone can be adversely impacted, especially since mercury bioaccumulates in the body over time. The town of Minimata is the site of Japan’s worst industrial poisoning, where a factory discharged mercury into local waters, subsequently contaminating the area’s fish and shellfish.
Many residents who ate the mercury-contaminated seafood suffered from severe mercury poisoning, including immune dysfunction, brain and nervous system damage, and death. While the mercury pollution was first recognized in the 1950s, the pollution and resulting health damage continued for decades.
What happened in Minimata, Japan was, unfortunately, but one example of the environmental and human-health poisoning caused by mercury pollution around the globe.
The treaty brings hope that such tragedies will be prevented in the future. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the estimated cost of health and environmental damage caused by exposure to mercury is $22 billion.2
It’s considered such a potent toxic pollutant that just one drop of mercury in a 20-acre lake over time would poison the lake to the extent that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would ban fishing in it.
Dental amalgam contributes an estimated 10 percent of the overall environmental mercury pollution. 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, similar to what occurred in Minimata. There must be no more Minamatas – anywhere on our planet!
The Long-Overdue End Is Near for Dental Amalgam
The mercury used by dentists to manufacture dental amalgam is shipped as a hazardous material to the dental office. Any amalgam leftover is also treated as hazardous waste and requires special precautions to dispose of, yet it’s supposed to be “safe” to keep it in your mouth for years to come. Sadly, many live with toxic reactions for extended periods of time, never connecting the dots between their failing health and the mercury in their teeth and their environment.
The truth is, the international mercury treaty has been long overdue, as dental amalgam is a Civil War relic, hardly a point in its favor. It is no better, nor safer, than other discarded medical practices like bleeding patients, administering calomel, and performing surgery with unwashed hands. In fact, amalgam poses a whole swarm of problems at every stage of its lifecycle, including…
Releasing mercury during production: Mercury is released into the environment when amalgam is manufactured. Endangering dental professionals: Dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental office staff are exposed to mercury during and after amalgam preparation. Deceiving dental patients: Most dental patients are not informed that amalgam is 50 percent or more mercury – many are told that amalgams are "silver fillings." Damaging healthy tooth structure: To place an amalgam, a significant amount of healthy tooth matter must be removed – permanently damaging the tooth structure. Exposing patients to mercury: Amalgam continues to release mercury after it is implanted in your body, and can even cross the placenta to reach unborn babies. Fracturing teeth: Amalgam expands and contracts over time, leading to cracked teeth and hefty dental bills. Polluting the environment: Sooner or later, most of the mercury from amalgam ends up in air, soil, and water via numerous unsound pathways. Contaminating fish: Once in the environment, amalgam can convert to methylmercury, contaminate fish, and wind up on your dinner plate.
It’s Time to Celebrate: 2013’s 5 Amazing Mercury Milestones
The new treaty has a road map for how to phase down amalgam – switch dental school curriculum to composites as the primary material, re-train dentists, change insurance to prefer alternatives, develop a national plan to reduce amalgam use, and more. This is the culmination of years’ worth of milestones, many of which were achieved in 2013. Let’s take a look at what we have to celebrate:
- Amalgam is in the mercury treaty.
Repeatedly, Charlie and his team outworked, outwitted, and outpointed the World Dental Federation (the American Dental Association (ADA) at the world level). The World Dental Federation brought only Caucasian men from North America and Europe; Charlie countered with a team of women and men from every race and continent. The ADA ‘white guys’ spoke English, while Charlie’s team’s fluency extended to more than 20 languages. Charlie’s team organized luncheons to explain mercury-free dentistry; the nonplussed World Dental Federation had no choice but to attend, and watch!
- Amalgam is the only mercury-added product in the treaty with a road map for how to phase down its use.
Nations have specific guidance on what measures can be taken to transition to mercury-free alternatives. So we don’t wait on target phase-out dates for other products that are between 7 and 12 years off. For amalgam, we begin now! Now is the time to begin the phase-out of amalgam!
- Being defeated at the treaty abroad, the ADA is suffering a string of defeats at home.
America’s TV educator on medicine, Dr. Oz, ran a great program that explained the health, environmental, and technical problems with amalgam. Many of you sent him compliments, but the ADA was irate. Unable to persuade Dr. Oz to retract a single word, the ADA was humiliated into withdrawing their affiliation with Sharecare, a consumer website co-founded by Dr. Oz.
The ADA tried to get the American Public Health Association (APHA) to endorse the ongoing use of amalgam. After winning the first round before the treaty was completed, the ADA was rebuffed once APHA took a full look at the issue. For organized dentistry, solidarity in favor of amalgam has disintegrated.
- A worldwide campaign has begun to get amalgam manufacturers to switch -- and they are getting the message.
Dentsply, an amalgam manufacturer based in York, PA, is being challenged to switch to alternatives, both via a grassroots campaign right there in Pennsylvania3 and a call from environmental and social justice organizations on six continents not to dump amalgam in developing nations.
The Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry has launched a petition drive.4 It’s your decision whether to sign, but the common rule in these drives is… the more signatures, the more effective. Only a little over 500 signatures are needed to hit 10,000!
Signaling they may be throwing in the towel, European dental materials manufacturers devoted an entire day of their two-day conference to the topic, “The Demise of Amalgam Use and Development of Enhanced Materials to Advance Novel Dentistry.”5
- The Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry is a potent force on all six continents.
The World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry elected, and kept, Charlie as its president. In that role he has brought together a powerhouse of talent – 10 regional vice presidents plus an array of chapter leaders – people who are scientists, dentists, environmentalists, journalists, physicians, professors and attorneys.
Governments are seeking advice from Consumers for Dental Choice and the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry on how to end amalgam. Here’s a good example: MERCOSUR is the South American regional organization analogous to the European Union. In 2013, Charlie Brown was the first person from civil society ever invited to address the MERCOSUR Environmental Ministers – which he did in Montevideo, Uruguay, in May.
Working closely with Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project and Elena Lymberidi-Settimo of the European Environmental Bureau, the Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry has laid the groundwork to win in Europe. With the European Union weighing a phase-out of amalgam on a strict timetable, they organized a team that went to the European Parliament in Brussels.
The Plan Moving Forward
Getting the mercury treaty was just the first step. “The treaty gives us the framework we need to make mercury-free dentistry a reality for everyone,” says Charlie Brown. “But now it’s up to us to see that it is implemented effectively.” The treaty will require nations to take two of the listed phase-down measures… but some of these measures are more effective at phasing down amalgam use than others. Here is a summary of the best treaty measures for phasing down amalgam use, as supported by the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry:
- Promoting Mercury-Free Dental Fillings: This measure includes educating dental consumers about the mercury in amalgam and the availability of mercury-free alternatives. As Zogby polls have shown, over 75% of consumers choose mercury-free fillings as soon as they find out amalgam is 50% mercury. So this step is proven to phase down amalgam use.
- Training in Mercury-Free Alternatives: Dental schools should phase out amalgam instruction. In the interim, nations can require training on mercury-free alternatives for dentists and tell government-funded dental schools to teach students how to use mercury-free dental fillings and techniques, while not requiring competency exams on amalgam and not permitting students to use amalgam in children in school dental clinics,
- Adjusting Government Programs and Insurance: Most people end up with amalgam not because it is the least expensive material or it is the best option for their health (it never is), but because it is all their insurance or Medicaid will pay for. Therefore, governments should urge insurance companies to fully cover mercury-free alternatives and no longer purchase amalgam for use in government programs (like for our soldiers and sailors in the military).
- Making a Plan to Minimize Amalgam Use: Setting goals to minimize amalgam use is a good first step to start phasing down amalgam.
A Devious Attempt to Derail the Treaty
While the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry implements this plan to phase out amalgam in nations around the world, it is not surprising that the World Dental Federation tries to put up roadblocks. This pro-mercury group is pushing stalling tactics, saying that before phasing out amalgam we should go through a litany of diversions like (1) prevention of tooth decay, (2) research and mercury inventories, and (3) mercury waste management – none of which actually phase down amalgam use.
These stalling tactics can appear attractive at first glance. But don’t be fooled by the World Dental Federation: All three of their “amalgam phase-down measures” are designed to delay the demise of mercury fillings.
Tooth decay prevention efforts have not stopped the need for dental fillings anywhere in the world and they won’t as long as sugar consumption remains so high – and the World Dental Federation, who pockets money from candy makers, isn’t highly motivated to reduce sugar use and find itself with less funding (they’d rather dump fluoride into your water supply).
No more research is needed before we take action – the many effective, affordable, and available mercury-free alternatives have already been researched for over half a century and we certainly don’t need any more research telling us that mercury is a problem. And the realistic solution to waste management, of course, is to stop creating more mercury waste – i.e., stop using amalgam.
Clearly, if the World Dental Federation gets its way, amalgam will be around for a long time. But the World Dental Federation didn’t win at the treaty negotiations… and they aren’t going to win now. We’ve got Charlie Brown, the experienced team at the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, and their amazing allies like Mercury Policy Project and the European Environmental Bureau on the ground to see that the mercury treaty does indeed result in the end of mercury fillings.
Do You Have Mercury Fillings?
For those of you who have mercury fillings, I recommend that you have them removed… but avoid making the mistake I did nearly 20 years ago. I had the procedure done by a non-biological dentist. When you have these fillings removed you can be exposed to significant amounts of mercury vapors if the dentist doesn't know what he or she is doing. Replacement of amalgam is a serious medical procedure. Do not go to a dentist who does not fear the toxicity of mercury and who does not use a protocol that both builds up your strength beforehand, and limits in every possible way your exposure to mercury.
You can find a mercury-free dentist of your own on Consumers for Dental Choice’s website, or check out dental listings from their close allies at the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine and the Holistic Dental Association – two dental associations whose support for mercury-free dentistry has been unflagging.
It's also for this reason that I strongly suggest you get healthy BEFORE having your fillings removed as you want your detoxification mechanisms optimized prior to removal. My struggles with my own teeth led me to learn about and embrace biological dentistry, also known as holistic or environmental dentistry. In a nutshell, biological dentistry views your teeth and gums as an integrated part of your entire body, and any medical treatments performed takes this fact into account. The primary aim of holistic dentistry is to resolve your dental problems while working in harmony with the rest of your body.
Biological dentists are well aware of the dangers involved with toxic materials such as mercury fillings (aka amalgams). Some things that need to be done to keep you (and your dentist) safe during amalgam removal include:
- Providing you with an alternative air source and instructing you not to breathe through your mouth
- Using a cold-water spray to minimize mercury vapors, and putting a rubber dam in your mouth so you don't swallow or inhale any toxins
- Using a high-volume evacuator near the tooth at all times to evacuate the mercury vapor
- Washing your mouth out immediately after the fillings have been removed (the dentist should also change gloves after the removal)
- Immediately cleaning your protective wear and face once the fillings are removed, and using room air purifiers
How You Can Support Mercury-Free Dentistry
Consumers for Dental Choice and its team have made amazing progress toward mercury-free dentistry. But there’s still hard work ahead as Consumers for Dental Choice is now running education programs for consumers… holding training sessions for dentists… and organizing briefings for governments around the world. You can help stop dental mercury today! 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