Dentists at Odds Over Silver Fillings

by Alan Gung

Your health may be in danger if you have dental fillings and you might not realize it. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown along with dentists, physicians, and consumer and environmental experts want the public to know about the health risks of toxic mercury in “silver” dental fillings used for treating cavities.

They along with the Pennsylvania Coalition for Mercury-Free Dentistry held a press conference at City Hall to expose the truth about silver dental fillings.

Most consumers aren’t aware their fillings might have mercury, which is the primary source of mercury exposure for the general public, according to the National Academy of Natural Sciences’ 2000 mercury report.

Approximately, 175,000 U.S. dentists place 100 million amalgam fillings in patients’ teeth each year. According to Charles Brown of the National Counsel for Consumers for Dental Choice, the American Dental Association (ADA) said the ADA misleads the public by promoting the amalgams as “silver” fillings rather than explaining to consumers the fillings consist of mercury and insisting the fillings are harmless.

Silver amalgam fillings consist of 50 percent mercury—twice the amount of silver. Mercury’s considered to be more toxic than lead, cadmium, or arsenic. If exposed, it could cause neurological harm, kidney damage, and damage to the immune system as well as many other health risks such as reproductive, neurological and autoimmune disorders, birth defects, childhood learning disabilities and autism.

Mercury is also linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease and various types mental illness.

He wants the ADA to end its “gag rule” of keeping consumers uninformed.

“One of the reasons I’m here today is to challenge the gag rule. The ADA does not want you to know about the mercury in the dental fillings. They instruct their dentists not to tell you. There’s a notorious ‘gag rule’ that the ADA says, ‘We want our dentists, to keep their mouths shut and don’t say the ‘M’ (mercury) word.’”

Dr. Frederick Burton, a physician specializing in alternative internal medicine, added. “The ADA promotes these fillings as silver. I want to call the ADA to end their gag rule and stop promoting this as silver fillings,” he said.

Freya Koss, founder of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Mercury-Free Dentistry and a survivor of amalgam mercury poison, believes the American Dental Association doesn’t want dentists to inform patients on the potential dangers of amalgam fillings.

“The ADA is deceiving the public. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin- why would anyone want to have it in their mouth? I am confident that if dentists informed their patients about the risks and gave them the choice, they’d choose an alternative like a composite filling. I know I would have. No level of mercury is safe,” Koss said tearfully.

Dentists are at higher rate of exposure to mercury since they are exposed to it more, according to Hines.

Not only is this a public health problem it’s an environmental problem as well.

In fact, amalgam fillings are the primary source of mercury found in the environment. Mercury from those fillings is released into the environment through human excretion or waste and dental office disposal, according to www.amalgam.org.

To stop this mercury problem, experts and dentists are urging doctors to use alternatives like white composite fillings.

Groups most affected by this issue are children, immigrants and low-income families who can’t afford the higher-costing composite fillings.

“A lot of the poor get sick from these fillings because insurance tends to not cover this at all or much less than the composite fillings,” Sara Moore-Hines, a survivor of amalgam mercury poisoning, explained.

She noticed a difference since she changed over to the composites.

“We want the public to know alternative white composite fillings are much safer yet more expensive,” she said. “Since I got my composite fillings my mouth doesn’t smell and I can’t taste the metal anymore, I’m not sick all the time too.”

This has been a major concern for Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown since her child had worn fillings. Brown had never known about this problem until her staff informed her on this public health issue. She is proposing city legislation requiring dentists to post and distribute fillings and require dentists to install systems permitting the recycling of mercury waste.

“I never knew to even ask the question,” she said. “As a result of working on this issue, my awareness and understanding of the issue has been heightened. I’m just one mother out of the thousands across the city who may not know to simply ask the question. In case my child’s fillings were not temporary, as a result of being involved with this issue, I would know now to tell the dentist I prefer not to have silver fillings, instead have the alternative composite fillings put in my child’s mouth.

“Hopefully the intent of the bill is to make the practice universal where all consumers get the alternative type of filling and really eliminate the use of silver mercury fillings. With this bill it will help consumers to make informed choices about dental care.”