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Insurance Companies Use Bait-and-Switch Tactics to Maintain the Status Quo of Mercury Amalgams

Dental Insurance

Story at-a-glance -

  • Failing to keep up with the advances in dentistry, insurance companies use bait-and-switch tactics to strong-arm consumers into getting amalgam
  • About half of U.S. dentists are mercury-free, but insurance companies cheat you by claiming that composite materials are merely “cosmetic” instead of dentists’ material of choice
  • Consumers for Dental Choice now launches its grassroots “Demand your Choice” campaign to bring dental insurance into the 21st century and end discrimination against consumers who want mercury-free dental fillings
  • We now celebrate Mercury-Free Dentistry Week. Through August 28, I will match every donation (up to $100,000 total) to Consumers for Dental Choice, which champions the cause of mercury-free dentistry — and makes every dollar count

By Dr. Mercola

Who is more likely to get an amalgam dental filling: people with insurance or people without insurance? The answer may surprise you. The people who are paying for dental insurance are actually MORE likely to get amalgam than mercury-free composite, according to a study published in 2011.1

To find out why this is the case, you don't need to look beyond the slimy bait-and-switch tactics employed by dental insurance companies.

Many people buy dental insurance believing their dental fillings are covered under their policies. But buried in the fine print of those policies are many restrictions that limit the insured's access to mercury-free dentistry. For example:

  • Many insurance policies only pay for amalgam in molar teeth; if you want composite, you have to pay out-of-pocket.
  • Many insurance policies that do pay for composite fillings in molar teeth only cover them up to the cost of an amalgam, then leave you to pay the difference.
  • Many insurance policies claim to cover "silver fillings," but don't tell unsuspecting customers that there is no such thing as a "silver filling" — they are in fact mostly mercury.
  • Many insurance policies will not pay for the removal of old amalgams and replacement with composite fillings — even if your dentist believes this is the best treatment.

Many Feel Deceived by Bait-and-Switch Tactics

Many consumers have been left feeling their insurance companies have deceived them. As one consumer reported in a recent survey:

"I just was shocked when I found out the details of my coverage. It felt like a bait-and-switch scheme and deception after I submitted my claims.

There is no doubt they are doing the wrong thing by covering a toxic substance with known serious consequences. Suppose you are in the chair, have problems, you need that filling and you have not planned for that expense, so you just say yes to mercury, because you are in a bind."

Many more feel that their insurance does not adequately cover the modern mercury-free fillings:

"My company-sponsored insurance has not covered mercury-free fillings adequately (or at all in the past) for myself or my children."

"As noted earlier, they only pay up to the cost of an amalgam, unless it's on the front (visible) teeth. I get my insurance through my employer and have no choice in provider (only one option)."

"I must pay the difference between the cost of amalgam and mercury-free fillings."

Take Action — Make Mercury-Free Dentistry a Reality for All

Mercury-Free Dentistry Week, August 21 to 28, is more than a celebration. This week I will match your donations to Consumers for Dental Choice, whether done in U.S dollars, Canadian dollars, pounds or Euros, up to $100,000.

Consumers for Dental Choice is a small, effective organization with the solitary mission of brining mercury-free dentistry to North America and the world.

For 20 years, Consumers for Dental Choice has been working to protect your right to choose mercury-free dentistry. When Consumers for Dental Choice was founded back in 1996, times were grim for consumers and right-thinking dentists.

The latter were tyrannized about the mercury issue; only 3 percent would admit to being mercury-free.

A Mercury Triangle — the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the American Dental Association (ADA) and the State dental boards — conspired to make sure consumers were told that amalgam is "silver." Hardly any of us outside dentistry had any idea that dentists were plowing our mouths full of mercury.

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Charlie Brown, president of Consumers for Dental Choice and former attorney general for West Virginia, and his team took on the Mercury Triangle — first defeating the dental boards, one by one, and then destroying the gag rule — the order that dentists stand silent about the mercury.

Consumers for Dental Choice won fact sheets in some states, then beat the FDA in court, forcing the agency to take its first step ever on amalgam: classifying it.

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The Public Harm of Covering Mercury

When insurance companies refuse to fully pay for mercury-free fillings, they harm more than your pocketbook. They are harming:

Your health: Dental amalgam releases neurotoxic mercury vapor into your body. Children, the unborn and the hypersensitive are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury.

As if that's not bad enough, as a pre-Civil War concoction, amalgam requires the removal of healthy tooth tissue, weakens tooth structure and cracks teeth — leading to higher dental bills later.

Your environment: Dental amalgam is the largest amount of mercury in use in the United States — more than light bulbs, thermometers or batteries. Most of this mercury, about 28.5 metric tons annually, ends up polluting our air, soil and water.

Once amalgam's elemental mercury reaches the environment, it can convert to methylmercury, which can contaminate the fish we eat. Mercury pollution can cause health problems, especially for children and the unborn, whose brain and nervous systems are still developing.

Your dental office: Dental amalgam can contaminate dental workplaces with mercury, which exposes dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, front office staff and visiting patients to this toxin.

Due to this constant exposure, dental professionals — many of whom are women of childbearing age — have been found to have higher systemic mercury levels than the general population.

Experts Urge Insurance Reform

The game changer for mercury-free dentistry is the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Consumes for Dental Choice led a worldwide coalition to secure amalgam into that Convention, whose goal is a world free of anthropogenic (man-made uses) of mercury.

Minamata calls on every nation to shift both insurance and government programs from favoring amalgam to favoring mercury-free materials.

With Minamata Convention on the verge of being ratified, here is our chance to help Consumers for Dental Choice take things to the next level — its enforcement in every nation. Donations are tax-exempt and can be made online at Checks can be mailed to:

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

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Experts worldwide agree that dental insurance needs to catch up with the times to cover mercury-free fillings instead of amalgam. This includes the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which said: "Many insurance companies have traditionally only covered the cost of amalgam fillings, for marginal price reasons. However, the full long-term environmental cost burden is not reflected in these price differences."

And the World Health Organization (WHO), which says that "existing or planned third-party payment systems must consider reimbursement schemes incorporating dental care which make use of materials alternative to dental amalgam."

It's not just experts that think it's time for insurance companies to step up — it's their customers too. A 2014 Zogby poll found that 76 percent Americans (and 80 percent of women) thought dental insurance plans should pay for non-mercury fillings. Only 6 percent thought they should not be covered.

The Pro-Mercury Forces Dig In

With the weight of experts and public opinion clearly on the side of mercury-free dentistry, why are so many insurance policies still only fully covering amalgam? In the video above, Brown urges you to speak with your insurance company, demanding that they cover mercury-free dentistry.

Consumers for Dental Choice has talked with representatives from insurance companies, the National Association of Dental Plans and the American Dental Association — none gave satisfactory answers. Instead, here's some of the mangled logic of our opponents, paraphrased:

Amalgam has been used for more than 100 years: This is proof that amalgam is outdated, not that insurance should continue to favor it. Besides, mercury-free alternatives to amalgam have been around themselves for half a century now.

While they have continued to develop into the most advanced filling technology available, amalgam has not evolved since the 1890s. There is no excuse for insurance holding dentistry back to 19th Century standards. Do they want to return to bleeding patients?

Mercury-free fillings are merely cosmetic: It's true — mercury-free fillings are white. But any dentist worth his salt will tell you there are more important reasons to choose mercury-free composites. In addition to avoiding mercury exposure, composites preserve more natural tooth structure.

Meanwhile, amalgam placement requires the removal of a significant amount of healthy tooth structure, which can shorten the life of the tooth. But insurers who say composite is merely cosmetic don't care about long-term health consequences like that.

Mercury-free fillings are too expensive: Of course the insurers are only considering their costs, not the long-term costs that are passed onto consumers in the form of environmental clean-up and medical/dental bills.

Due to the high costs of dental mercury pollution (not to mention the health consequences), amalgam is now recognized as "more expensive than most, possibly all, other fillings when including environmental costs."2 You can check out the numbers for yourself in the Consumers for Dental Choice report "The Real Cost of Dental Mercury."

Demand Your Choice

Anyone who has dental insurance would expect that it would cover the most basic procedure: filling your teeth. Right? Wrong! More often than not, it doesn't. When insurance companies say they cover dental fillings, they don't. For the molars (the back teeth), dental insurance will generally only fully cover amalgam, that primitive, pre-Civil War pollutant that leads to cracked teeth.

Consumers for Dental Choice, the nonprofit group whose work I endorse, is fighting back. Under the leadership of former attorney general Charlie Brown, this month they launch the "Demand Your Choice" campaign. It calls on all consumers to insist on mercury-free dentistry. It provides you with the tools needed to challenge the bait-and-switch tactic of America's dental insurers.

Demand Your Choice
Click Here

Consumers for Dental Choice Stands Up to Insurers

Consumers for Dental Choice has the singular mission of fighting for mercury-free dentistry, and a track record of 20 years of moving us from a nation of mercury-based dentistry toward a nation of mercury-free dentistry. Before Consumers for Dental Choice was founded, only 3 percent of dentists were mercury-free — no doubt because dental boards punished them and prohibited them from talking about mercury with their patients.

So Consumers for Dental Choice devoted its shoe-string budget in the first instance to defeating this notorious gag rule via a well-orchestrated sequence of campaigns: grassroots action in California and Arizona, petitions to the state Attorney General of Oregon and Iowa, administrative litigation in Florida and Minnesota, dental board appointments in Washington state and California, and court litigation in Connecticut.

The result for North American consumers: the supply of mercury-free dentists increased manifold! Today, the odds are good that we can find a mercury-free dentist right in our own community.

Now that almost half of American dentists are mercury-free in practice (although many are still afraid to advertise and speak out), Consumers for Dental Choice is shifting from focusing on supply to demand. Demand for mercury-free dentistry is only held back by insurance companies and other third-party payers who are mandating continued amalgam use. So they're taking action:

Insurance companies: Consumers for Dental Choice has developed tools to help you and your dentist challenge your dental insurance company's decision to deny you your right to choose mercury-free dental care.

State Medicaid: State Medicaid programs commonly prohibit the use of mercury-free fillings for molar teeth (the back teeth), forcing low-income individuals to choose between mercury fillings and no dental care at all.

Consumers for Dental Choice is working with Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice to take on Medicaid in Connecticut, where the Department of Social Services has told dentists that "Medicaid will not pay for [mercury-free] composite restorations in the molar teeth regardless of whether the practice markets itself as 'amalgam free.'"

It then tells dentists: "If your office cannot provide amalgam services, please have your patients call … 1-855-CT-DENTAL to locate a new [dentist]."3 This is taxpayer money funneled to mercury fillings, and taxpayer money funneled to pro-mercury dentists only. Pretty outrageous, wouldn't you agree?

Federal programs: The United States federal government is one of the largest single users of amalgam in the world. From the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Department of Defense to the Federal Prison System, the United States is purchasing and promoting the use of mercury fillings. Consumers for Dental Choice is challenging the federal government to shape up its act, starting with the Indian Health Service.

Partnering with the International Indian Treaty Council, Consumers for Dental Choice filed a petition calling on the Secretary of Interior (who runs the Bureau of Indian Affairs) and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (who runs the Indian Health Service) to end the use of dental mercury in Indian Health Service clinics and on tribal lands.