Last month, landmark legislation was introduced to bar the state of Maine from using in taxpayer money to pay for mercury amalgam fillings.
“If amalgam were a necessity in dentistry, it would be one thing,” wrote the bill’s sponsor, Senator Mike Carpenter with Maine dentist Mohammed Imam for the Bangor Daily News,
but today, the opposite is true. Amalgam has been surpassed by technically superior materials, which are minimally invasive and preserve tooth structure. Amalgam is not only polluting, but it also harms tooth structure — which can lead to cracked teeth and huge future dental bills. Indisputably, 21st century technology is mercury-free dentistry.
And those who are harmed most are among those least able to afford or have access to those superior alternatives: those in the military, children receiving public assistance, Native Americans served by the Indian Health Service, and people living in institutional settings.
As Carpenter and Imam argue, this isn’t really a matter of cost.
When you add environmental costs, amalgam costs $87 more per filling than composite. The price of glass ionomers is virtually the same price as amalgam. No, it’s not cost — it’s the fact that bureaucracies in Washington and Augusta have not caught up with modern dentistry.
And it’s not just bureaucracies. There are still dentists who insist that amalgam is the superior material, as one letter writer did in the BDJ last week, adding that he has “never come across a dentist who has suffered from mercury poisoning.”
Perhaps he should speak with more holistic and biological dentists. Often, you’ll find that their own mercury toxicity was the impetus to look for a better, healthier way to practice dentistry.
Research has also shown that occupational exposure to mercury vapor is a very big deal for dental workers and that protective measures should be taken to limit that exposure.
Then there’s the matter of environmental pollution, which another concerned dentist also recently wrote to the BDJ about:
Mercury is released into the environment throughout the life-cycle of dental amalgam including; production, shipping, recycling and the preparation and removal of restorations. Amalgam residues are discharged into waste water via clinical and home waste and collect in sewage sludge via land disposal.
The incineration of medical and hazardous waste further contributes to the release of mercury into the atmosphere.
At the end of amalgam’s life cycle, mercury from restorations is emitted into the atmosphere during cremation or enters soil and groundwater following burial and subsequent decomposition of the body.
Over the course of a year, mercury can reside in the air and be transported far around the globe. It is estimated that two-thirds of dental mercury is eventually released into the environment.
Yet, curiously, the writer finds it reasonable to leave mercury in people’s mouths rather than safely remove the toxic material and dispose of it responsibly – so for years, even decades, those with mercury fillings will continue to release it into wastewater.
Patients with amalgam fillings excrete over ten times more mercury in their feces than those without mercury fillings. The IAOMT has estimated that in the U.S. alone, this amounts to over 8 tons of mercury flushed out to sewers, streams, and lakes per year.
For despite what amalgam’s defenders often insist, mercury does not, in fact, stay locked in the amalgam.
For decades the ADA has steadfastly stated that mercury was tightly bound within amalgam and could not possible get out. Chemists and toxicologists, on the other hand, point out that not only does mercury escape, but its release is greatly enhanced by chewing and heat. The World Health Organization has published research which shows that between 3-17 micrograms of mercury is released into the body every day simple by chewing on dental mercury fillings. Fish and other environmental pollutants provide only 0.52 micrograms of mercury. At present, there is no known safe limit of mercury ingestion….
Yielding to scientific pressures, the ADA now admits that mercury is indeed released from the amalgam fillings even after placement, but states that it is perfectly safe and still adamantly supports that use of amalgam fillings.
It’s been several years now since the US signed the Minamata Convention, which mandates steps toward a phase-out of mercury amalgam, yet no significant action has been taken. Meanwhile, the EU, among others, has charged ahead, banning the use of the material in kids, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.
Perhaps measures like Senator Carpenter’s law can make a difference and get our nation moving on this crucial issue. We can hope.
Meantime, thank you Senator Carpenter – and your co-sponsors, Senators Meyer, Claxton, Harnett, Perry, Stewart, Stover, Swallow, Talbot Ross, and Tepler – for taking this action to help propel conventional dentistry into the 21st century!