Mercury Fillings: Consumers Contacting Aetna to Change Insurance

Mercury Fillings

Story at-a-glance -

  • Help call on Aetna to cover composite fillings by signing a recently created petition
  • Many of Aetna’s dental insurance plans fail to completely cover composite fillings, which are a healthier alternative to amalgam mercury fillings
  • By not always covering composite fillings, it means more mercury fillings will continue to be used, posing serious risks to the environment and public health
  • Children and middle- to low-income families are at the greatest risk of harm from Aetna’s failure to cover alternatives to mercury fillings at 100 percent

By Dr. Mercola

Once in your body, mercury, a neurotoxin, can harm your nervous system to differing degrees, depending on how much mercury you've accumulated in your body.

At above-average doses, brain functions such as reaction time, judgment, and language can be impaired. At very high exposures, mercury can affect your ability to walk, speak, think, and see clearly.

This is why, back in 2006, scientists issued a worldwide warning about eating mercury-tainted seafood, which can expose you to about 2.3 micrograms per day.1

Yet, a single amalgam filling may release as much as 15 micrograms of mercury per day, and according to some estimates, 10 micrograms per day is average. Despite the known health and environmental risks, about half of US dentists are still implanting this toxic metal into their patients' teeth.

Many simply neglect to let their patients know that their "silver" filling is actually composed of 50 percent mercury.

Consumers for Dental Choice commissioned a poll with the highly reputable Zogby Analytics firm, which found only 11 percent of those surveyed ever recall being told by their dentist that amalgam contains mercury.

Adding to the problem, some insurance companies, like Aetna, will fully cover amalgam fillings but only partially cover (if at all) their far healthier alternatives, like composite fillings.

Aetna Urged to Stop Penalizing Environmentally Responsible Choices

Recently, Consumers for Dental Choice along with approximately 146 dentist and other health care professionals wrote a letter to Aetna CEO, Mark Bertolini. The letter expressed concern that many of Aetna's dental insurance plans cover mercury-containing amalgam in all teeth while restricting resin composite use. They noted:

"We do not use or recommend amalgam at all in our practices because:

Amalgam damages teeth: Amalgam requires the removal of more healthy tooth tissue, weakens tooth structure, and can crack teeth as it expands and contracts – leading to higher dental bills later.

Amalgam exposes people to mercury: Dental amalgam releases mercury, a neurotoxin. Children, the unborn, the hypersensitive, and dental personnel are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury.

Amalgam pollutes our environment: Dental amalgam constitutes the largest amount of mercury in use in the United States today, and most of this mercury ends up polluting our air, soil, and water. Mercury pollution indisputably can cause health problems, especially for children and the unborn."

Resin composites are made of a type of plastic reinforced with powdered glass. It is already common in the US and on every continent of the world, offering notable improvements over amalgam, as it:

  • Is environmentally safe: Composite, which contains no mercury, does not pollute the environment. This saves taxpayers from paying the costs of cleaning up dental mercury pollution in our water, air, and land – and the costs of health problems associated with mercury pollution.
  • Preserves healthy tooth structure, because, unlike amalgam, it does not require the removal of significant amounts of healthy tooth matter. Over the long term, composite preserves healthy tooth structure and actually strengthens teeth, leading to better oral health and less extensive dental work over the long-term.
  • Is long-lasting: While some claim that amalgam fillings last longer than composite fillings, the science reveals this claim to be baseless. The latest studies show that composite not only lasts as long as amalgam, but actually has a higher overall survival rate.

According to Consumers for Dental Choice, a 2014 Zogby poll found that more than 75 percent of Americans want their dental insurance policies to cover mercury-free fillings, yet Aetna may be penalizing its clients who choose this option. They noted:

"'We are concerned that Aetna's dental insurance policies penalize consumers who choose environmentally-responsible, mercury-free dental fillings (such as resin composite).

… Sometimes Aetna covers composite fillings only in anterior teeth ('Composite fillings (anterior teeth only)' and 'Resin filling – 2 surfaces, anterior'), sometimes Aetna says simply composite fillings are "Not covered.'"

By restricting coverage of composite fillings, these dental plans penalize consumers for making the environmentally-responsible choice."

As stated by Charlie Brown, executive director, Consumers for Dental Choice:

"American dentistry has totally changed, but Aetna, with its consumer penalty for choosing mercury-free dentistry, appears to be tuned in only to the fading remnant of pro-mercury dentists.

Half of American dentists refuse to place mercury fillings, consumers increasingly don't want mercury in their mouths, and the world via the Minamata Convention demands the scaling down in use of mercury fillings.

Amalgam is the #1 use of mercury in America today.  By straitjacketing low- and moderate-income consumers, Aetna is one of the major causes of mercury pollution in America today."

Take action now! Click below to sign the petition asking Aetna to stop favoring mercury amalgam fillings and to start paying for all mercury-free dental fillings.

Sign Petition
Click Here

Who Is Most at Risk from Aetna's Dental Insurance Plans?

Aetna's plans pose harm in a number of ways. By not always covering composite fillings, it means more mercury fillings will continue to be used. More mercury in the environment puts the health of animals and fish -- and yes, human beings -- at risk.  

In the US, dentist offices are the largest source of mercury in wastewater entering publicly owned treatment works. And dental amalgam continues to be the leading intentional use of mercury in the US, accounting for between 35 percent and 57 percent of mercury consumption.

Dental mercury pollution enters the water via human waste disposal and dental clinic releases. It enters the land via landfills, human burials, and fertilizer. And it enters the air from dental clinic emissions and waste incineration.

Seven to nine metric tons of mercury per year escapes into the atmosphere during cremations alone, and it is estimated that, left unchecked, crematoria will be the largest single cause of mercury pollution by 2020. Consumers for Dental Choice explained:

"After amalgam enters the environment, certain microorganisms can change its elemental mercury into methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury that builds up in fish, shellfish, and people that eat fish.

That is why the European Union's environmental health committee, SCHER, calls amalgam a 'secondary poisoning' The U.S. EPA concurs, noting that, methylmercury can damage children's developing brains and nervous systems even before they are born."

There's a simple, relatively inexpensive solution that could drastically cut down on the environmental pollution from mercury waste, if only dentists would choose to use it — amalgam separators.

Estimates are that separators would reduce mercury emissions by nine tons each year. The average cost to a dental office using a separator is just $700 per year.

The EPA has proposed a rule that would require all US dentists to install amalgam separators, which is expected to be finalized in the middle of 2016. The best solution, of course, would be to eliminate mercury from dentistry altogether, but until this happens, separators would at least lessen the environmental burden.

Aetna's Plans Put Children at Risk

As noted in an extensive scientific review about mercury and children's health, there is no known safe level of exposure for mercury.2

In April 2015, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) issued their final opinion on dental amalgam and recommended the use of mercury-free dental fillings instead of amalgam for children's primary teeth. They added, according to Consumers for Dental Choice:

"The use of amalgam restorations is not indicated in primary teeth, in patients with mercury allergies, and persons with chronic kidney diseases with decreased renal clearance

To reduce the use of mercury-added products in line with the intentions of the Minamata Convention (reduction of mercury in the environment) and under the above mentioned precautions, it can be recommended that for the first treatment of primary teeth in children and for pregnant patients, alternative materials to amalgam should be the first choice."

Even the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) admits  that fetuses, breast-fed babies, and children under six are at risk from amalgam fillings.  In an admission right in its regulation -- but one that FDA does not publicize, the agency admits it does not know if amalgam is safe or not for children nor for pregnant women (which manifestly should be grounds to stop such uses):

"The developing neurological systems in fetuses and young children may be more sensitive to the neurotoxic effects of mercury vapor. Very limited to no clinical information is available regarding long-term health outcomes in pregnant women and their developing fetuses, and children under the age of six, including infants who are breastfed."

The fact of the matter is, if you have amalgam fillings, there is overwhelming evidence showing mercury is easily released in the form of vapor each time you eat, drink, brush your teeth, or otherwise stimulate your teeth.

These mercury vapors readily pass through your cell membranes, across your blood-brain barrier, and into your central nervous system, where they can cause psychological, neurological, and immunological problems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also reports the known toxic effects of mercury exposure, including in its inhaled vapor form, stating:3

"Mercury is highly toxic and harmful to health. Approximately 80% of inhaled mercury vapor is absorbed in the blood through the lungs, causing damages to lungs, kidneys, and the nervous, digestive, respiratory, and immune systems.

Health effects from excessive mercury exposure include tremors, impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, insomnia, emotional instability, developmental deficits during fetal development, and attention deficit and developmental delays during childhood."

Moderate- and Low-Income Children Are Unfairly Subjected to Mercury Fillings

Under a "drill-fill-and-bill" approach that puts profits about patients, dentists still using this primitive, pre-Civil War product 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 composite fillings -- a claim no longer valid given technological improvements in amalgam..

As a result, many are still pointing to amalgams as a cost-savings for tight healthcare budgets, but nations like Denmark, which has made the transition to mercury-free, discount the claim that amalgam is more efficient. Meanwhile, low-income and middle-income people, Native Americans living on America's Reservations, and our soldiers and sailor – even the pregnant ones – get mercury fillings based on this bogus "efficiency" and "cost-savings" argument. Consumers for Dental Choice continued:

"'Aetna's penalty on mercury-free fillings prevents many moderate- and low-income families from having the choice of mercury-free dentistry. Their children will be disproportionately affected because these parents are less able to afford to pay the penalty. As a result, lower-income children are more likely to be subjected to direct mercury exposure from amalgam fillings at the same time they are more likely to be exposed to mercury pollution – one major source of which is amalgam.

By penalizing consumers who choose mercury-free fillings, Aetna is perpetuating this system of 'choice for the rich and mercury for the poor,' as an NAACP witness called it in a Congressional hearing. So long as Aetna forces lower-income parents to choose between mercury and paying a penalty, it can hardly continue to claim it is doing appropriate outreach to African-Americans and other minorities."

Consumer Action vs. Aetna

In a meeting with Consumers for Dental Choice, Aetna said they hadn't heard a lot of "noise" about the issue of mercury fillings… so it's time to turn up the volume. We are filling up their mailbox with letters from dentists, other health professionals, consumer groups, environmental organizations, and businesses.  Now it's your turn! Tell Aetna: Stop favoring mercury amalgam fillings and start paying for all mercury-free dental fillings.  Please sign Consumers for Dental Choice's petition to Aetna's CEO.

Sign Petition
Click Here

A 2014 Zogby poll found that more than 75 percent of Americans want their dental insurance policies to cover mercury-free fillings, yet Aetna hasn't heard the news. Aside from the American public, organizations worldwide are also calling for insurance companies to step up and stop favoring mercury fillings. As Consumers for Dental Choice reported, this includes:

  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): UNEP is concerned that "Many insurance companies have traditionally only covered the cost of amalgam fillings" without considering the "the full long-term environmental cost burden." UNEP concludes that "insurance companies will need to review their reimbursement policies to cover more than amalgam fillings in the future — a move that will encourage dentists and patients to shift to mercury-free alternatives."
  • World Health Organization says: "Third-party payment can help solve inequity in dental care. Most importantly, existing or planned third-party payment systems must consider reimbursement schemes incorporating dental care which make use of materials alternative to dental amalgam."
  • Minamata Convention: The Convention urges two measures that specifically recognize insurance companies' contribution to mercury pollution: "Discouraging insurance policies and programs that favor dental amalgam use over mercury-free dental restoration" and "Encouraging insurance policies and programs that favor the use of quality alternatives to dental amalgam for dental restoration."

Considering the risks posed by mercury fillings to human health and the environment, Consumers for Dental Choice has called on Aetna to end restrictions on composite fillings in posterior teeth in all their dental plans, as well as to favor mercury-free fillings in children's teeth in all dental plans. If you have an Aetna dental plan, call up your representative and encourage them to do the same.

Help Put an End to Mercury Pollution

Does your dentist use mercury fillings? On any patient? If so, it's time that he/she and you had a talk. Let's face it: the dental amalgam industry – manufacturers and pro-mercury dentists – are among the biggest mercury polluters in America. It's time for every American consumer (1) to insist on mercury-free dental fillings, and (2) to spend his or her hard-earned dollars on the non-polluting dentist, the mercury-free dentistry.

For updates on the movement for mercury-free dentistry, join Consumers for Dental Choice on Facebook or sign up to receive their newsletter. You can also take a stand with us and tell the EPA not to let polluting dentists off the hook: It's time to stop dental mercury dumping.

Important Information About Amalgam Removal

For those of you who have mercury fillings, I recommend having them very carefully removed by a competent biological dentist. It's very important to have it done correctly. Removing amalgam fillings can expose you to significant amounts of mercury vapor if your dentist doesn't do it properly. For this reason, it's important to find a qualified biological dentist who is trained in safe amalgam removal. When amalgams are removed, a large amount of mercury is released, and if the proper precautions aren't taken, your body can absorb a massive dose of mercury, which can lead to acute kidney problems.

I experienced this myself more than 20 years ago when I had my amalgams removed by a non-biological dentist. Biological dentistry views your teeth and gums as an integrated part of your body, and any medical treatments performed take this fact into account. Biological dentists are well aware of the dangers involved with toxic materials such as amalgams. Some of the steps that need to be taken 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

Putting a rubber dam in your mouth so you don't swallow or inhale any toxins, and using a high-volume evacuator near the tooth at all times to evacuate the mercury vapor

Using a cold-water spray to minimize mercury vapors

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

Using room air purifiers

Resources to Help You Find a Biological Dentist

The following organizations can help you to find a mercury-free, biological dentist: