Back in the early days of the automotive industry, when Henry Ford was revolutionizing the mass production of cars, he once insisted that “any customer can have a car painted in any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
For more than a century, something similar held true in dentistry: You could have any kind of filling you wanted so long as it was metal. And in most cases, that metal was dental amalgam: an alloy consisting of about 50% mercury, plus smaller amounts of silver, tin, copper and other metals. It was cheap and easy to place.
But it wasn’t perfect. Placing amalgam meant cutting away much more healthy tooth structure to seat it properly, resulting in a weaker tooth. More, it also meant putting a known neurotoxin into living human tissue.
In fact, mercury is one of the most toxic elements we know, and it’s imperative that we keep our bodies and environment safe from it. This is why countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark have banned amalgam altogether. It’s why the EPA has proposed a new rule that would require all dental offices to use amalgam separators to keep mercury out of the water supply. It’s why steps toward a phase-down of amalgam were included in the Minamata Convention on Mercury – a global treaty ratified by 140 countries.
These days, about half of all American dentists continue to place amalgam fillings, despite the fact that there are better biocompatible alternatives available. But more shift to mercury-free each year.
This month marks the fifth year in a row that Dr. Mercola and Consumers for Dental Choice have teamed up to celebrate accomplishments like these through Mercury-Free Dentistry Week. By celebrating them, we can continue to raise awareness about the health risks of dental amalgam and inspire action to finally eliminate this toxic element from dentistry for once and for all.
For even though change is happening – both science and momentum are on the side of mercury-free – most Americans still don’t know that their so-called “silver” fillings even contain mercury. Only about 1 in 10 say their dentist has ever told them as much. And 2/3 say their dentist has NOT given them enough information about alternatives to make an informed decision.
Our office has been mercury-free for years. More, we also practice mercury-safe dentistry. This is vital, for the protection of people and planet alike. So we follow the protocols established by the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT), considered the gold standard for the safe removal of mercury. These include:
- Cutting and removing the amalgam in large chunks, to keep from aerosolizing the mercury.
- Using high volume suction and copious amounts of water to keep the tooth cool and control mercury particulate.
- Using a dental dam to keep amalgam from inadvertently being swallowed.
- Providing full protective covering, including eyewear, for the patient, dentist and all assistants.
- Providing an alternate source of clean air for the patient and respirators for the dental team.
- Running advanced, ionizing air filters in the operatory to clear any particulate matter from the air.
Following these recommendations is the best way to ensure that the mercury is removed in a way that doesn’t recklessly endanger patients, doctor, staff and the environment. Through our commitment to safety, Fremont Natural Dentistry has been recognized for Best Management Practices and certified by the State of California as a Pollution Prevention Partner.
But if we’re to have a mercury-free future, more has to change. A few years ago, according to a recent news feature, the FDA was actually poised to issue new warnings against the use of mercury amalgam in young children, pregnant or nursing women, and others who may be particularly sensitive to mercury. This would have been quite a reversal. But they were never given the green light. Their official position continues to be – despite the recommendations of their own scientists – that mercury amalgam is safe.
Yet there are signs of change, as well. For instance, Consumers for Dental Choice has been in talks with Aetna – one of the biggest insurance companies in the US – about easing restrictions on what materials they’ll pay for. Right now, no dental insurer will pay for healthier alternatives to mercury. If Aetna changes, others may follow. More than 100 dentists have signed onto a formal letter to the company, urging that change. More than 2000 consumers have signed onto a public petition backing it.
Signing and sharing that petition is one way YOU can help fulfill the promise of a mercury-free future. Here are a few more:
- Share this article with everyone you know.
- Encourage everyone you know to choose mercury-free fillings and mercury-safe dentistry.
- Make a donation to Consumers for Dental Choice to help them continue the great and important work they’ve been doing.