In attacking the McClatchy news story, “Health officials kill proposal to curb mercury dental fillings” published on July 22, the American Dental Association (ADA) once again misstates the facts and misses the point.
Mercury fillings pose no risk, the ADA says, because “Dental amalgam is an alloy that has entirely different chemical properties than mercury alone.” This statement does not address the McClatchy story and misstates the facts about the risks from mercury fillings.
McClatchy reported that in 2011, the FDA prepared a safety communication for public release that said, “A dental amalgam filling continuously releases low levels of mercury in the form of mercury vapor. Mercury vapor can cause health problems, particularly to the nervous system, but the severity of the effects depends on the amount of mercury released and exposure duration.” ADA ducks the mercury vapor issue. See mercury vapor release from a tooth with a mercury filling.
The FDA communication identified many risks from mercury fillings. It concludes by saying, “alternative materials, such as composite resins that do not contain mercury, can also be used to fill cavities. The FDA believes that these alternative materials would best be offered as the first line of restorative care minimizing the use of dental amalgam.” The McClatchy story asked why Department of Health and Human Services officials suppressed this FDA finding. The ADA ignores that question.
The blocked FDA document says mercury fillings should not be used in children under six, pregnant or nursing women, anyone with a preexisting neurological or kidney disease or by people hypertensive to mercury or other mercury amalgam components. It says the public, dentists and other medical professionals should be told these risks and informed consent obtained from patients before treatment. In contrast, the ADA has an “ethical” rule that warns dentists that they could lose their licenses if they discussed risks of mercury fillings with their patients.
In spite of the ADA’s decades long herculean efforts to defend mercury fillings, nearly fifty percent of American dentists no longer use them. If the public knew what FDA has proposed to say about mercury fillings, that number would jump dramatically. Informed consent is a healthy society’s real bottom line.