Why would a primitive, pre-Civil War polluting product that is 50% mercury and cracks teeth still be going into your mouth?
Dental amalgams, known to many of us by the deceptive term “silver fillings,” are 43 to 54% mercury. The mercury from amalgam causes far-reaching problems:
- Exposure to mercury, the most toxic and more vaporous of the heavy metals, can permanently damage the child’s developing neurological system, harm the adult’s kidneys, and even kill the unborn child in the womb.
- To implant amalgam, a dentist drills out healthy tooth matter in order to carve the crater necessary for amalgam placement – a primitive process that irreversibly weakens tooth structure. With a damaged tooth structure and with a metal-based filling that expands and contracts with temperature changes, teeth with amalgam are much more likely to crack years later.
- Amalgam is a workplace hazard, especially for young female dental workers who experience an elevated rate of reproductive failures.
- Dental mercury is the #1 source of mercury in our wastewater, so dentists are handing the clean-up bill for their pollution to taxpayers and water ratepayers.
Amalgam was introduced in the Civil War era by the new American Dental Association, which won a political battle with the physicians of the mouth, who said using mercury in oral health care is malpractice. Florida dentist James Hardy, in his book Mercury Free, refers to the creation of amalgam and the creation of the American Dental Association as the “twin-birth.”
So why do half of dentists continue to use the filling material used by their great-grandfathers – even though we now know the risks of dental mercury?
Is it the price? No. The alternatives to amalgam are comparably priced – or even less expensive. Amalgams cost more than glass ionomers, which can be applied via a mercury-free technique called Atraumatic Restorative Treatment (ART). ART does not require drilling, only hand instruments, and is virtually painless. Amalgam is the same price as composite (also called resin) for smaller cavities, although composite can cost a few bucks more for large cavities. But when you add the horrid environmental and health catastrophe caused by amalgam, of course, amalgam’s cost to society is much more.
It’s the profits. Amalgams are quick and easy. Dentists make more money per chair per day implanting mercury. For factory-style dentistry, where the teeth represent dollar signs instead of part of a human being, dentists drill, fill, and bill. The term “drill, fill, and bill” is a joke aspiring dentists learn in dental school. Only the joke is on us and our children: they count their money, and we have a vaporous neurotoxin implanted an inch from our brains or our children’s brains.
And of course, since amalgam damages tooth structure and cracks teeth, pro-mercury dentists will continue to profit from amalgam long after its initial placement. Teeth with amalgam require more dental work in the long term. So for the pro-mercury half of dentists, amalgam is the gift that keeps on giving.
How can dentists offering mercury fillings to their patients compete with dentists who practice toxic-free dentistry?
The pro-mercury dentists’ trade group, the American Dental Association, has pulled every lever with Congress, the Food and Drug Administration, the state dental boards and the corporate media to cover up amalgam’s mercury. First, the ADA popularized the deceptive term “silver fillings” so consumers would think amalgam is made mainly of silver (actually, it has twice as much mercury as silver). Second, it mounted a no-holds-barred campaign to silence competitors and critics of 19th century dentistry, especially the courageous dentists who realized their leadership was so fundamentally in error.
According to its own self-description, the American Dental Association appears focused more on promoting products – and getting paid handsomely to do so – than in promoting its dentist members. At the bottom of its news releases, the ADA has frequently written:
“The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing more than 155,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer and professional products. For more information about the ADA, visit the Association's Web site at www.ada.org.”
Of the five sentences, one is about members, and three about the ADA’s product endorsement system. The “ADA Seal of Acceptance” is a pay-to-play system in which companies pay the ADA to secure their endorsement. By contrast, the American Medical Association will not do pay-to-play endorsements of products; it is considered unethical.
The ADA owns two patents on amalgam, patent numbers 4,018,600 and 4,078,921. They have expired, but while they were in effect the ADA went to incredible lengths to wipe out mercury-free dentistry and quash dissent from the emerging critics of mercury-based dentistry.
How does the ADA keep pro-mercury dentists in business – and keep profits rolling in for the amalgam makers?
- The “silver fillings” deception
Gold fillings are called gold because they are made of gold. Seizing on the comparison, the ADA brochures promoting mercury fillings called them “silver fillings.”
The ADA claims the term means “silver-colored,” but who are they fooling? In my dictionary, the first definition of “silver” is the element. The color is the fourth definition, behind the element, medium of exchange, coins, and eating utensils.
Consumers for Dental Choice, with its Campaign for Mercury-Free Dentistry, fought back against the “silver fillings” deception. In California these advocates launched the term “say the M word,” which led to fact sheets on amalgam in that state and several other states and cities. These fact sheets, which dentists are required to hand their patients, inform the public that amalgam is mercury.
- The gag rule
When its amalgam patents were in effect, the ADA used its power to block the emergence of mercury-free dentistry by adopting a rule of conduct prohibiting dentists from discussing mercury with their patients:
“Based on available scientific data, the ADA has determined that the removal of amalgam restorations from the non-allergic patient for the alleged purpose of removing toxic substances from the body, when such treatment is performed solely at the recommendation or suggestion of the dentist, is improper and unethical.”
Yes, the ADA said it is unethical for a dentist to tell the truth to his patients!
Thanks to an extraordinary campaign by Consumers for Dental Choice, the gag rule is just about defunct. Working with state lawmakers, with civil liberties organizations, with state Attorneys General (Charlie Brown, head of the consumer group, used to be one), and with an outraged citizenry, the movement for Mercury-Free Dentistry succeeded in the legislatures, in the courts, and in the courts of public opinions to restore free speech rights to dentists.
How about the political process? We do have friends in Congress, Republicans like Congressman Dan Burton and Senator Mike Enzi, and Democrats like Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Congressman Gregory Meeks. But they are few and far between.
The ADA has been particularly devious in the halls of Congress. It doesn't instruct its minions in Congress – members from both political parties – to write bills, conduct hearings, nor even make speeches. Instead, the ADA buys silence and inaction from Members of Congress. Sound familiar? It was the same tactic used by Big Tobacco for several decades.
At the state level, it's the same; in some state capitals, the ADA has had the single largest political action committee. The tactic is the same: Do nothing, say nothing, and cash the PAC money.
- Strong-arming the children of America
In the Maine legislature, money is not king. The state has fair practices that limit outside money and create a level-playing field for unfunded candidates. Unable to buy their way into power, the ADA resorted to outright strong-arming.
A bill was gaining momentum in the Maine Legislature to phase out amalgam. The ADA struck back, threatening to deny treatment for Maine children if their dentists could not use their favorite filling material. If amalgam were banned, the ADA threatened,
"The result will be treatment delayed, treatment denied, and treatment never being sought. That is not a situation the dentists of Maine, the United States, or our policymakers can be willing to accept."
Several years later, the ADA's Pennsylvania chapter pulled the same power play against children with disabilities.
A fact sheet law in the City of Philadelphia meant parents are now made aware of amalgam's horrid health risks to their children. In inner-city clinics, parents were insisting on mercury-free dentistry – the same as parents do in the affluent areas. But to the Pennsylvania Dental Association, inner-city parents were supposed to take the crumbs their dentists offered: mercury fillings or no fillings. A dental association leader was demanding that parents of children with disabilities sign a release allowing him to put mercury fillings in their children; when they refused, he denied all treatment: no tooth cleanings, nothing. Suburban parents might go to a dentist down the street, but for inner-city minority parents of children with disabilities, finding a dentist is not easy – and this dentist knew it.
Incredibly, the Pennsylvania Dental Association – which claims to support choice for children in the suburbs – endorsed the position of this dentist. Fortunately, the story did not end there. This callous power play endorsed by the Pennsylvania Dental Association – denying dental care for children with disabilities unless they agreed to mercury fillings – caught the attention of the disability rights community. The Pennsylvania Governor's Advisory Commission on Disabilities enacted a resolution condemning this ADA chapter.
What can you do to stop the use of amalgam?
To their credit, half of the dentists in the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada no longer place mercury fillings; they always use mercury-free alternatives. They never use amalgam. Since they have made the transition to mercury-free dentistry, so could the other half. And Consumers for Dental Choice is here to make sure that they do.
Please consider a donation to Consumers for Dental Choice, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to advocating mercury-free dentistry--worldwide
Donations can be made online: http://www.toxicteeth.org/donate.cfm. Checks can be mailed to:
Consumers for Dental Choice
316 F St., N.E., Suite 210
Washington DC 20002
Thank you for supporting mercury-free dentistry!