A landmark provisional agreement has been approved by the three governing institutions of the European Union (EU) to ban amalgam dental fillings for children less than fifteen years old as well as pregnant and nursing women.
The legislation is drafted to take effect July 1, 2018, and will affect five hundred million people. It still must be approved by EU governing bodies but is overwhelmingly supported by citizens and lawmakers.
Additionally, the European Commission will require each member state of the EU to submit a plan of action by July 1, 2019, to reduce the overall use of dental amalgam fillings.
What’s The Matter With Amalgam Dental Fillings?
Amalgam dental fillings were first used in the nineteenth century and are comprised of several metals (hence the term “amalgam”). Shockingly, mercury can account for up to half of its metal make-up. Mercury is a known neurotoxin, endocrine disruptor, and has been implicated in relation to diabetes and autism.
One recent study at the University of Washington found that the low-level release of mercury toxins into the body from a dental tooth filling can lead to long-term brain damage. (1)
The American Dental Association stands by its position that mercury fillings are safe, however, the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology differs: “The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) vehemently disputes recent allegations made by the American Dental Association (ADA) that there is no scientific evidence validating the harmful health effects of dental mercury fillings. The ADA continues to support its self-serving view by denying that mercury fillings are dangerous. Clearly, public health is not an ADA priority.”
“… IAOMT has catalogued hundreds of scientific studies dating back over a century demonstrating that mercury in dental fillings is hazardous to human health. In fact, in 1845, the American Society of Dental Surgeons, the ADA’s predecessor, required its members to pledge not to use amalgam because mercury was known to be extremely toxic. Yet in 1859 the ADA was founded based on its endorsement of these controversial fillings.”
“In more recent years, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark have banned the use of mercury fillings, and other countries have restricted their use for pregnant women, children, and patients with kidney problems…In 1991 and 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that dental amalgam is the greatest source of human exposure to mercury in the general population, and in 2005, a WHO report listed adverse health effects caused by mercury exposure, cautioning, ‘Recent studies suggest that mercury may have no threshold below which some adverse effects do not occur.’” (2)
As is often the case, Europe’s concern for its citizens seems much more serious than the United States’. The EU has banned chemicals, food additives, and farming practices found to be harmful that U.S. government agencies deem safe.
The Minamata Convention
The issue of mercury in dental cavity fillings has been discussed worldwide for decades. In 2013, the Minamata Convention was signed by one hundred twenty-eight countries and ratified by thirty-four others, including the U.S. Minamata calls for safer disposal methods for products containing mercury and general phasing out to end their use.
The recent EU decision comes after six years of civic action prompting government to change its stance specific to dental fillings, as the amalgam used comes into constant direct contact with the human body.
A European Commission online vote on the issue resulted in eighty-eight percent of the responding public against amalgam. So beginning on July 1, 2018, amalgam tooth material will not be allowed for children and pregnant and nursing women in the EU, aligning with the commitment made to the Minamata Convention.
It’s not a comprehensive regulation but it’s a start.
The ruling highlights the dangers for everyone and will hopefully prompt people to ask their dentists for alternatives when a dental filling procedure is required. Some, but not all, countries of the EU already ban or limit mercury amalgam use altogether.
In response to news of the provisional agreement, Graeme Munro-Hall of the World Alliance for Mercury-free Dentistry stated: “Amalgam is a primitive polluting device. It is technically inferior to today’s modern alternatives. Dentistry’s amalgam era is over, a fact embraced enthusiastically by thousands of European dentists and accepted by the others.” (3)
The American Situation
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a similar ban in 2015 but its Department of Health and Human Services rejected the proposal, citing a cost/benefit analysis that other substances used to fill dental cavities are more expensive and banning amalgams would discourage people with lower incomes from going to the dentist. Safer options typically cost 20% more than amalgams for a larger surface. For one tooth or a small surface, there is no difference. However, dentists sometimes artificially inflate the costs.
Not completely blind to the toxicity of mercury and the country’s commitment to the Minamata Convention, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently established a rule on the disposal of mercury waste from dental offices, requiring that they separate and handle it like the hazardous substance it is—not washing it down the drain, as is current practice. It’s estimated that the amount of mercury released into the environment by dentists each year is over 5 tons.
If you have a tooth filling, you can request to have it removed and replaced with mercury-free composite fillings next time you visit your dentist.