30 Tips in 30 Days Designed to Help You Take Control of Your Health
This article is part of the 30 Day Resolution Guide series. Each day in January a new tip was added to help you take control of your health. For a complete list of the tips click HERE
By Dr. Mercola
About half of all dentists in the U.S. still use dental amalgam, which consists of 50 percent mercury combined with silver, tin, copper and other trace minerals. Mercury is the most volatile and toxic of the heavy metals, and the vapors released when chewing or brushing pose a clear and present danger to health, especially your brain and kidneys, as mercury is a neuro- and nephrotoxin. It’s also toxic to your reproductive system.
Europe is now paving the way for the rest of the world by banning the use of amalgam fillings in pregnant or nursing women and children under the age of 15. The rule takes effect on July 1 this year, and will apply across the entire European Union (EU)1 a— 28 countries in all, with a population totaling more than half a billion people. It took years to get this ban through, but it was well worth it. Millions of European children will never be exposed to dental mercury as a result of this victory.
American children, as of yet, are not so lucky. Despite great efforts to get the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enforce the Minamata Convention rule on mercury, which states that proactive steps must be taken by all signatory countries to phase out the use of dental mercury, the agency continues to encourage the use of amalgam, even in children.
Make Mercury-Free a Non-negotiable Requirement
Dentists in the U.S. and elsewhere who are foolish enough to use amalgam do so primarily for financial reasons. It’s a quick and easy way to make a profit, and the long-term damage amalgam does to your teeth ensures repeat clientele. Consumers for Dental Choice, which has spent the last two decades advocating for the complete elimination of mercury from dentistry, has helped radically shift the playing field in favor of consumers who want mercury-free dentistry.
If you’ve not yet made this switch, please consider doing it now. Don’t let another year go by without locating a qualified mercury-free dentist. Doing so will not only protect your own health; it will also push the entire industry of dentistry closer to the goal where absolutely no one will have to get toxic mercury implanted into their teeth. By refusing to work with dentists who still use this pernicious poison, they will be forced to “get with the times” and go mercury-free, or lose their practice.
Insurance companies and government programs will also be forced to update their policies. At present, these third-party payers continue to promote amalgam use, and pose a major barrier to mercury-free dentistry in North America. This simply must come to an end, and consumer refusal of amalgam may be the quickest way to incite this change.
Check Your Insurance Policy
Did you know that, in the U.S., you’re actually more likely to receive mercury amalgam if you have dental insurance than if you’re uninsured? The reason for this is because many private insurance companies do not cover mercury-free fillings for all teeth. Even if they claim to cover composite or resin fillings, buried in the fine print you will often find that the plan does not cover mercury-free fillings in posterior (back) teeth. If you want a composite filling, you’ll have to pay out-of-pocket, even though you have insurance.
Alternatively, some plans that do pay for composite fillings in molar teeth only cover them up to the cost of an amalgam, which means you’ll have to pay the difference. Many plans also contain a "least expensive alternative treatment" (LEAT) clause, which states that the plan will only pay for the least expensive treatment alternative — regardless of how inappropriate that alternative may be. Mercury fillings, without a doubt, are no longer appropriate for a laundry list of reasons.
Adding insult to injury, 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. The bottom line: Insurance plans often shuttle consumers into the pro-mercury dentist assembly line operating under the infamous motto of "drill, fill and bill” — and keep them going back there.
Government Programs Force Amalgam on the Underprivileged
Many state and federal government programs — including school and Medicaid dental programs, the Indian Health Service (IHS), the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs — also heavily promote the use of amalgam.
As just one egregious example, on March 1, 2015, the Connecticut Department of Social Services issued a provider bulletin telling dentists that "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 — and on people who typically cannot afford an alternative route — but it also prohibited amalgam-free dentists from even participating in the state's Medicaid program!
The IHS also demonstrates the federal government's disproportionate use of amalgam on minorities and people of color. 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 51 percent of restorations in Caucasian patients. The National Congress of American Indians even adopted a resolution calling for the phase-out of amalgam on Indian reservations, but 200 years of history continues: Despite one treaty after another, the U.S. government turns a deaf ear to the wishes of Native Americans.
Problems Caused by Insurance and Government Protecting Mercury Fillings
By promoting the use of amalgam and refusing to pay for mercury-free fillings, these third-party payers:
• Increase mercury exposure: Dental amalgam releases neurotoxic mercury vapor into your body. Children, the unborn and the hypersensitive are especially vulnerable to its toxic effects. By promoting amalgam, they put even the most vulnerable people at risk for increased mercury exposure.
Dental amalgam also contaminates dental offices with mercury, exposing not only the individual patient to mercury but also the dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants and front office staff. 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.
• Lower the quality of dental 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, which leads to higher dental bills later on. When third-party payers promote amalgam use, they lower the quality of oral health care.
• Worsen mercury pollution: Dental amalgam is the largest source of mercury in the U.S. 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 contaminates fish stocks.
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 aid and abet worsening mercury pollution.
• Limit access to dental care: Surveys show that 32 percent to 52 percent of U.S. dentists are mercury-free, and the number of dentists still using amalgam has been steadily declining. However, insurance is not keeping up with dentists. By not fully covering mercury-free fillings, third-party payers limit the number of dentists their customers can go to and get the full benefit of their policy.
• Interfere 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 interfere with patients' rights to choose.
Take Action — Find a Mercury-Free Dentist and Push Back Against Insurance Plans That Refuse to Pay
In a reasonable world, insurance would pay for mercury-free fillings only, and not a penny for amalgam, considering its adverse impact on your teeth and overall health. Indeed, experts worldwide agree that dental insurance needs to catch up with the times and promote the use of mercury-free fillings instead of amalgam.
This includes the United Nations Environment Programme, which has stated: "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."2
The World Health Organization has also stated that "existing or planned third-party payment systems must consider reimbursement schemes incorporating dental care which make use of materials alternative to dental amalgam."
Now that about half of American dentists are mercury-free, Consumers for Dental Choice has shifted its focus from supply to demand, and consumer demand for mercury-free dentistry is primarily held back by insurance companies and other third-party payers who mandate continued amalgam use. It’s time to drive home the message that consumers will no longer tolerate the use of mercury amalgams, and will not settle for insurance plans and programs that mandate amalgam use. To participate:
1. Check the details of your dental insurance policy. If it fully pays for amalgam while limiting or denying coverage for mercury-free fillings, register your objections with this easy-to-fill-out online form, which you can then email to your insurance company. Please visit the Consumer for Dental Choice “Demand Your Choice” page to find additional details and tools to help you take a stand against your insurance company's pro-mercury policies.
2. Next, find another insurance company or plan that pays for mercury-free fillings in all teeth, without exceptions or LEAT clauses.
3. If your current dentist is still using mercury in his or her practice — even if they also offer mercury-free options — seek out a dentist that offers only mercury-free fillings for all patients. And, be sure to inform your dentist about the reason you’re transferring.
Again, the reason for this is because dentists who still use amalgam end up using it on people who rarely have any other choice, either because they cannot afford to pay the difference, or their state or government program dictates they can only receive mercury.
This unfair practice needs to end, and the quicker we can get all dentists to go 100 percent mercury-free, the sooner these programs will be forced to change. So, selecting a 100 percent mercury-free dentist is an altruistic choice on your part, which will help those whose voices are so often ignored.
4. If you have mercury fillings, be sure to consult with a biological dentist who is trained in the safe removal of amalgam (see resources below).
5. Last but not least, spread the word, and urge your family and friends to challenge their insurance companies' toxic policies and make the switch to a mercury-free dentist as well.