By Dr. Mercola
Polls — and common sense — tell us that when consumers learn dental amalgam is 50 percent mercury, they demand a safe alternative for their mouths and bodies. But millions of consumers who are ready to switch are trapped in a vicious system that insists on putting toxic mercury in their mouths. Two culprits freeze in this primitive pre-Civil War, tooth-damaging pollutant:
- Insurance companies, whose outdated policies push lower-income consumers into amalgam
- Government programs across the board, where factory-style dentistry by the Pentagon, the Indian Health Service, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Medicaid and others block consumer access to 21st century oral health care
America — and the world — are fortunate to have Consumers for Dental Choice, headed by Charlie Brown, leading the charge against both pro-mercury insurance companies and pro-mercury government agencies with programs like Demand Your Choice. Throughout Mercury Awareness Week (August 20 through 27, 2017), I promise to match your gifts to this excellent nonprofit group dollar for dollar.
Why do I put my money where my mouth is — matching up to $100,000? Because I have closely watched Consumers for Dental Choice, and I have witnessed one achievement followed by another, including:
- Protecting rights of mercury-free dentists by defeating the notorious gag rule that prevented them from disclosing the truth about amalgam's mercury
- Gaining fact sheets for consumers in some states and cities
- Winning at the Minamata Convention on Mercury so each ratifying nation (including the U.S. and Canada) must cut down amalgam use
- Leading the campaign that succeeded in banning amalgam for children and pregnant and breast-feeding women in the huge 28-nation European Union
This dental consumer succinctly describes how insurance companies enrich the pro-mercury dentists — at our expense: "With my current employer insurance, mercury-free fillings aren't covered at all … so I have paid out of pocket for all my mercury-free fillings. My current insurance covers amalgam completely."
How Insurance Policies and Government Programs Promote Mercury Fillings
In the U.S., many third-party payers — including private insurance companies, federal government programs and state government programs — no doubt pose the major barrier to mercury-free dentistry in North America today and promote amalgam use, each in their own way.
1. Private Insurance Companies
Consumers with dental insurance are actually more likely to receive amalgam than uninsured dental consumers. How can this be? Many private insurance companies advertise that they do cover mercury-free fillings (usually referred to as "composite" or "resin" in the policies). But buried in their policies' fine print are two common terms that limit this coverage in favor of amalgam.
- First, many plans outright do not cover mercury-free fillings in posterior (back) teeth.
- Second, many plans contain a "least expensive alternative treatment" (LEAT) clause. Under a LEAT clause, the plan will only pay for the least expensive treatment alternative — no matter how inappropriate that alternative may be. Mercury fillings, without a doubt, are no longer appropriate for a laundry list of reasons.
The bottom line: Insurance too often shuttles consumers into the pro-mercury dentist factory assembly line operating under the infamous motto of "Drill. Fill. Bill."
2. Federal Government Programs
Many federal government programs — including the Indian Health Service (IHS), Federal Bureau of Prisons and Department of Defense — still use amalgam, making the federal government the largest single amalgam user.
The IHS demonstrates the federal government's disproportionate and unusual use of amalgam. A 2011 study found that dental amalgam is used for 73 percent of dental restorations in patients of "other" race (defined as American Indian/Alaska Native/Asian/Pacific Islander), many of whom receive IHS services. By comparison, dental amalgam is used for "only" 51 percent of restorations in white patients.
The National Congress of American Indians adopted a resolution calling for the phase out of amalgam on the reservations. But 200 years of history continue: Despite one treaty after another, the U.S. government turns a deaf ear to Native Americans, no matter how reasonable and emphatic the petition.
Consumers for Dental Choice and its partner, the International Indian Treaty Council, continue to insist that the voices of Native Americans be heard over that of the bureaucrats and the pro-mercury leadership at the Indian Health Service.
3. State Government Programs
The federal government is not alone — state governments also promote amalgam use in their school, prison and Medicaid dental programs. For example, on March 1, 2015, the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) issued a provider bulletin telling dentists, "Medicaid will not pay for composite restorations in the molar teeth regardless of whether the practice markets itself as 'amalgam free.'"
Not only did this new rule promote further amalgam use, but it also prohibited amalgam-free dentists from participating in the state's Medicaid program, telling dentists: "If your office cannot provide amalgam services, please have your patients call the Connecticut Dental Health Partnership (CTDHP) (1-855-CT-DENTAL) to locate a new dental home."
("Dental home?" If your "home" serves up mercury — evacuate now!) Between its refusal to pay for mercury-free composite on molar teeth and its dismissal of dentists who do not use amalgam, Connecticut's Medicaid program promotes further amalgam use — and that's just in one state!
Problems Caused by Insurance and Government Protecting Mercury Fillings
By promoting the use of amalgam, these third-party payers are doing more than upsetting their customers. They are:
• Increasing mercury exposure: Dental amalgam releases neurotoxic mercury vapor into your body. Children, the unborn and the hypersensitive are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury. When third-party payers promote amalgam use, they are putting even the most vulnerable people at risk for increased mercury exposure.
• Lowering the quality of oral health care: As if mercury exposure isn't 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. When third-party payers promote amalgam use, they are lowering the quality of oral health care.
• Worsening mercury pollution: Dental amalgam is the largest mercury use in the U.S. — 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 severe and permanent neurological conditions, especially for children and the unborn, whose brain and nervous systems are still developing. When third-party payers promote amalgam use, they are aiding and abetting this horrible impact on human health and human life.
• Limiting access to dental care: Surveys show that 32 percent to 52 percent of U.S. dentists no longer use amalgam, and the number still using it has been steadily declining. However, insurance is not keeping up with dentists. By not fully covering the mercury-free fillings that dentists are now using, third-party payers are in effect limiting the number of dentists that their customers can go to and get the full benefit of their policy.
• Interfering with patient autonomy: The right of every patient to make decisions about their own bodies — including what filling material is implanted in their teeth — is enshrined in laws, policies and resolutions throughout the world. When third-party payers promote amalgam use, they are interfering with patients' rights to make their own choice — and patients overwhelmingly choose mercury-free fillings.
Consumers for Dental Choice and Its Demand Your Choice Project
Consumers for Dental Choice runs a multipronged campaign to reform dental insurance — and make it pay for the mercury-free fillings its customers need by:
- Urging dentists and their patients to send letters and sign petitions to their insurance companies, demanding full coverage for mercury-free fillings. Hundreds have already joined in. You can check out the campaign at DemandYourChoice.com!
- Challenging U.S. government programs that promote amalgam fillings, focusing on the Indian Health Service first. Our team is following up on a series of meetings and a petition to IHS.
- Exposing state Medicaid programs that mandate mercury fillings, like in Connecticut, where we push the Department of Social Services to change this discriminatory policy; and in Oregon, where we won, but the state government didn't want to tell dental patients!
It is insurance and government programs that implant mercury fillings in the American economy. If we beat them, we beat amalgam! As a health-wise and environmentally responsible business, Mercola.com proudly covers only mercury-free fillings in its employee insurance plan.
Mercola.com will never pay one dime to cover a mercury filling! We hope other business owners and other human resource departments will follow our example. Contact your insurance company to demand full coverage for mercury-free fillings — and eschew mercury fillings!
How to Protect Yourself From Amalgam — Even When Your Insurance Company Doesn't Want To
Over the years, many dental consumers have been surprised to learn that their dental insurance would not pay for mercury-free fillings. Last summer, Consumers for Dental Choice conducted a survey asking for consumers' opinions on dental insurance. Here's what they found:
- 70 percent of respondents did not know that mercury-free fillings were not fully covered before they bought their insurance
- 40 percent of respondents have experienced trouble getting their insurance to pay for mercury-free fillings
- 95 percent thought that all dental insurance plans should favor mercury-free fillings over amalgam
Yet, the vice president for dentistry at one of America's biggest insurance companies told Charlie Brown that no one ever complained about their pro-amalgam policies! Clearly, it's time to ramp up the volume, so insurance companies stop pretending there is no consumer dissatisfaction with them ramming amalgam down the throats of Americans.
Hundreds of consumers are already active in Consumers for Dental Choice's Demand Your Choice campaign. Click here to find the tools you need to take a stand against your insurance company's pro-mercury policies by:
- Getting informed: Learn to identify dental insurance policies that fully pay for amalgam while restricting — or even denying — coverage for mercury-free fillings, especially in back teeth.
- Taking action: You can register your objections to amalgam with our easy-to-fill-out online form or use a sample letter as a guide.
- Spreading the word: Please share this article, post on Facebook or use word-of-mouth to urge more people to challenge their insurance companies' toxic policies.