ADA Attacked for Mercury Denialism

Mercury Fillings

Story at-a-glance -

  • The American Dental Association continues to claim mercury fillings are safe and affordable, but the research says otherwise
  • People with certain genetic variants appear to be more at risk from harm from long-term, low-dose exposure to mercury
  • Children with certain genetic variants who received mercury fillings performed significantly worse on tests of memory and concentration than children who received mercury-free alternatives

By Dr. Mercola

More than 100 million Americans have mercury fillings, also known as amalgams, in their teeth.

As evidence grows showing that implanting mercury — one of the most toxic elements — into your body (and mere inches from your brain, no less) is indeed harmful, you might expect the American Dental Association (ADA) to take action.

Yet, the ADA continues to state that amalgam is "considered a safe, affordable and durable material," and "has established a record of safety and effectiveness."1 As reported by journalist Greg Gordon for McClatchy DC:2

"For decades, the American Dental Association has resolutely defended the safety of mercury fillings … even muzzling dentists who dared to warn patients that such fillings might make them sick.

The association has lobbied the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] to ensure the fillings, which contain one of the world's most menacing toxins, receive a government seal of safety and wouldn't be tightly regulated.

For years, the ADA also resisted Environmental Protection Agency rules that would force dentists to stop dumping tons of mercury debris down public sewer lines, even as the United States and 128 other nations negotiated a treaty to curb mercury's global spread."

Four in 10 People May Have Genetic Traits Making Them Especially Vulnerable to Mercury

A series of little-publicized studies by researchers from the University of Washington revealed that people with certain genetic variants are at particular risk from long-term, low-level release of mercury from fillings.

Initial results, published in 2006, found a genetic polymorphism of coproporphyrinogen oxidase (CPOX4) appeared to affect susceptibility for specific neurobehavioral functions associated with mercury exposure.3

A related study of 330 children with the CPOX4 variant, published in 2012, found that those with mercury fillings performed significantly worse on annual tests of memory, concentration and other neurological activities compared to children who received mercury-free treatments.4

At least two other studies also showed a link between this genetic variant and heightened risks from exposure to mercury fillings. McClatchy DC reported:5

"The results, in four papers published in scientific journals from 2011 to 2014, have escaped public attention, although the authors say up to 40 percent of the population has at least one of the genetic traits and could be affected.

Diana Echeverria, a scientist who collaborated with University of Washington toxicologist James Woods and others in the reassessment, said the susceptible groups face 'a lifetime risk' of neurological damage.

'We're not talking about a small risk,' said Echeverria, who works for the Seattle-based Battelle Centers for Public Health Research and Evaluation."

In all, at least a dozen common genetic polymorphisms may worsen the effects of mercury on behavioral process in children, the researchers noted. Males appear to be particularly susceptible to the effects, as girls were able to excrete more of the mercury in their urine.

In response to the findings and the new Minamata Convention on Mercury (which requires the phase down of amalgam use), the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks advised dentists to use mercury-free fillings in children and pregnant women.

But in the U.S., even though the FDA described the study as "well conducted" and FDA acknowledges that:

"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."6

But despite these acknowledged risks, FDA said the evidence wasn't yet strong enough to justify an amalgam ban.

Charlie Brown, who brought the lawsuit that forced FDA to classify amalgam, says "FDA acknowledges the neurological risks to these particularly vulnerable populations, but continues to permit its unrestricted use — essentially using them as guinea pigs."

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FDA Proposal Warning Against Mercury Fillings Blocked by U.S. Health Officials

The U.S. FDA has a long history of siding with industry to support the use of mercury filings, including the deceptive marketing of mercury amalgams as "silver fillings."

In 2011, after multiple citizen petitions and an FDA advisory panel continued to express concern over amalgam risks and the FDA's reluctance to protect vulnerable groups, the FDA drafted a "safety communication" on mercury fillings.

The proposal urged dentists to avoid using mercury fillings whenever possible, but especially among particularly vulnerable groups, including pregnant women, nursing moms, children under 6, and people with mercury allergies, kidney diseases or neurological problems.

Unfortunately, the proposal was kept largely secret and was ultimately rejected by officials with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The HHS claimed the alleged slightly increased cost of non-mercury fillings could put an unfair burden on low-income Americans, who then might neglect to have their oral health problems treated at all.7

This is a similar argument used by the ADA. As a result, low-income and middle-income people, Native Americans living on U.S. Reservations, and our soldiers and sailors — even the pregnant ones — continue get mercury fillings based on this bogus "cost-savings" argument.

And this is just one example of how the ADA continues to stand in the way of efforts to remove toxic mercury from dentistry. McClatchy DC continued:8

"Over the years, the ADA has:

— Argued against FDA safety warnings about mercury fillings for pregnant women and small children.

— Imposed a gag rule barring member dentists, including those specializing in the safe removal of mercury fillings, from telling patients the compounds could harm their health …

— Cut a deal in the final days of George W. Bush's presidency that put off the issuance of regulations requiring dentists to install mercury "separators," so they can properly dispose of their mercury debris, in favor of a voluntary approach."

Why Does the ADA Love Mercury Fillings? It's the Money!

ADA's irrational support for mercury fillings baffles many observers, but looking behind the cover, as Dorothy did with the Wizard of Oz, the answer becomes self-evident. First, the ADA owns patents on amalgam (patent # 4,018,600 and patent # 4,078,921). 

Second, ADA's revenue is built on a system of kickbacks; its "Seal of Acceptance" is a pay-to-play endorsement scheme similar to one abandoned 20 years ago by the American Medical Association on the grounds of ethics. 

Third, the ADA was created as an amalgam-using organization in the mid-19th century, whereby the amalgam-using "dentists" defeated the anti-mercury "physicians of the mouth" who used gold (in those days, the gold had to be melted, making its implanting quite uncomfortable).  

In his landmark book "Mercury-Free," Florida dentist James Hardy refers to the introduction of amalgam and the creation of the ADA as a "twin-birth." Fourth, dentists make more money from each tooth, because amalgam destroys good tooth matter and can lead to expensive mouth clean-up work later. 

Fifth, the most ardent of the pro-mercury dentists choose to bypass training and forego learning in order to focus on a sure bet; at public hearings they notoriously claim mercury is not in amalgam, or the mercury is locked inert in the amalgam fillings — both being bald-faced lies.

To hold its power and to continue to ram amalgam down the throats of the American people, the ADA has a threefold modus operandi: maintain monopoly control over the profession, strong-arm dentists to keep using amalgam, and conceal the mercury from America's consumers. 

Today, however, this strategy of winning-by-intimidation is falling apart. First, the percentage of dentists in the ADA has declined, as dentists drop out of this pro-mercury trade group. Second, up to half of American dentists never use mercury fillings; they are "mercury-free." 

Third, the percentage of consumers who are aware of the mercury in amalgam doubled between 2006 and 2014, according to a Zogby poll which asked that same question eight years apart. Charlie Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice says: 

"The tipping point is about here. Soon, the number of mercury-free dentists will exceed 50%, and the number of consumers who know 'silver fillings' are really 'mercury fillings' will exceed 50%. At that point, the ADA has a choice; Either it abandons this primitive, pre-Civil War pollutant, which cracks teeth, and leapfrogs from the 19th century to the 21st, or the ADA falls on its proverbial sword for amalgam."  

Even a Ban on Mercury Fillings Won't Stop Mercury Pollution Anytime Soon

The use of amalgam fillings has been falling steadily, from an estimated 157 mercury fillings placed in the U.S. in 1979 to fewer than 20 million in 2015.9 Yet, it's estimated that 181 million Americans still have 1.46 billion mercury fillings in their teeth, which represents an estimated 1,200 tons of mercury.

When these people die, if their bodies are cremated the mercury will be released into the air.

According to McClatchy DC, "By 2025, incineration of corpses could send as much as 12 tons of mercury per year into the air, according to an analysis by the Vermont-based Mercury Policy Project, an environmental group."10 Other estimates suggest seven to nine metric tons of mercury per year escape into the atmosphere during cremations, and it is estimated that, left unchecked, crematoria will be the largest single cause of mercury pollution by 2020.

Sweden now mandates that all mercury fillings be removed prior to cremation for this very reason, and The European Environment Bureau is calling for crematoria to be included in new pollution-control standards for incinerating waste.11

There are even more sources of mercury pollution than this, sadly. For instance, did you know that, in the U.S., dentist offices are the largest source of mercury in wastewater entering publicly owned treatment works? Dental amalgam continues to be the leading intentional use of mercury in the U.S.

Mercury Levels so Bad in Some Dentists' Office Air That Patients and Workers Should Be Wearing Respirators

Alex Hummell is the CEO of Mercury Instruments USA Inc., a company that makes equipment to detect airborne levels of mercury. At industrial sites, employees must follow strict protocols to avoid exposure to even tiny amounts of mercury, but at dental offices mercury levels may soar — and patients and employees are oblivious to the risks.McClatchy DC reported:12

"'I've seen in dental offices what would make these other offices have to shut down,' said Hummell, CEO of Mercury Instruments USA Inc. 'They would be closing their doors and getting respirators on.' Instead, he said, 'there are kids running around everywhere. It's nuts. It's the exact same toxin, and it's being treated totally differently. Why is it being allowed to be so unregulated?'"

While industrial sites typically also monitor mercury levels at work sties, few dental offices do the same. It's so bad that Hummell, a father of five, says he won't bring his children into just any dentist office, lest they be exposed to mercury even for a second.

In an experiment to determine mercury exposures at a dentist's office, Hummell found mercury levels up to 30 times the OSHA limit could be released during a procedure to remove mercury fillings. He's also found that mercury levels rise when a tooth with an old mercury filling is gently brushed. As you might expect, the ADA was not too thrilled to hear about Hummell's findings. According to McClatchy DC:13

"He [Hummell] said he also showed dentists an American Dental Association pamphlet urging them to periodically monitor their offices for mercury, a circular that mostly drew chuckles and ridicule from the dentists.

'I got a call the day after the convention from the American Dental Association's lawyer threatening to take me down if I didn't stop using their publication,' Hummell said. 'I said, 'I thought the dental association wanted them to know. Right after that, you couldn't find that publication anywhere ... It disappeared from the Internet.'"

According to Charlie Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice, "Historically, the ADA has warned dentists about the dangers of mercury in dental offices, but only when the ADA stood to profit." For example, Brown cites an ADA brochure titled "You Owe It to Yourself!  Protect Yourself and Your Staff Against the Hazards of Your Profession with the ADA's Mercury Testing Service." In the brochure, the ADA acknowledges:

"Office spaces may be contaminated with mercury from leaky amalgam capsules and from the lingering effects of accidental spillage. High speed handpieces and ultrasonic compactors that vaporize mercury can lead to unsuspected inhalation."

For $75 per person per year, the ADA offered a "complete and confidential" mercury-testing service:

"The complete ADA service not only covers tests for your mercury level through regular urinalysis, but also, upon request, provides specific recommendations for changes in office procedures and layout that help you to eliminate further mercury overexposure."

There is no evidence that the ADA has continued this mercury testing program. "It appears that the ADA found it more profitable to deny the problem of high mercury levels in dental offices," explains Brown.

One Dental Hospital Banned Mercury Fillings Due to Indoor Air Pollution

Anyone who has mercury fillings in their mouth is at risk from the mercury vapors they release, however dental practitioners — including dentists, dental hygienists, dental students, clinical instructors and even dental supply traders — are particularly vulnerable to mercury intoxication while working with this toxic substance.

A study conducted by environmental justice group, BAN Toxics (BT), in partnership with the International Association of Oral and Medical Toxicologists-Philippines, World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry, and Asian Center for Environmental Health, revealed just how high levels of mercury vapor actually are.

The mercury vapor concentrations in five Philippine dental institutions and three dental stores exceeded the standard reference levels set by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).14 As reported by BAN Toxics:15

"It was found that mercury concentration values varied from 967ng/m3 to a high of 35,617ng/m3 — the majority of which were at levels beyond recommended reference standards such as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) action level of 1,000 ng/m3. Some areas posted a concentration of >10,000 ng/m3, which is considered as the evacuation alert level by the US EPA."

The environmental groups called for an immediate ban on dental amalgam in the Philippines, along with a change to the dental curriculum so that the future generation of dentists will know how to use mercury-free alternatives.

Similar to in the Philippines, research conducted in collaboration with the Zero Mercury Working Group (ZMWG) and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute found that some dental hospitals in Pakistan had hazardous levels of mercury pollutants in the air.16

The study found some dental teaching hospitals with indoor air levels of mercury between eight and 20 times higher than the permissible level for human health, posing risks not only to patients but also to medical staff. In response to the study, Polyclinic hospital in Pakistan became the country's first to ban mercury fillings, citing hazards to human health.