GUEST COLUMN

If mercury is bad for us, why is it still used in our teeth?

Posted April 11, 2011, at 9:02 p.m.

In 2003, I was on the committee that required all dentists to install mercury separators in their dental offices to trap the excess elemental mercury or scrap mercury that is not placed in the mouth. The reason these separators are required and are now law is the severe environmental damage elemental mercury causes to our air, land and water.

After realizing that excess mercury was going down the drain and into the water system and that this was harmful to the environment, a first-in-the-nation law was passed and supported by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. At first the dentists did not want this bill because it proved mercury fillings to be harmful, at least to the environment. Because of this law, in 2008 the Maine Dental Association persuaded the Legislature to exempt mercury fillings from the Kidsc-Safe Products Act, which was a real cop-out for all involved in that legislation.

Despite testifying before the Legislature again in 2005 and 2007, I was unsuccessful in getting legislation passed. One small victory was that the DEP was directed to measure how much mercury was used in dental offices.

From the time I started testifying in 1999 to today, Maine dentists have placed more than 2,400 pounds of elemental mercury in the mouths of Mainers, with the most going into our children and woman of childbearing age. Now that we have this information, the DEP has a formula to calculate the loading of how much of this mercury is ending up in our environment through wastewater, crematoriums and dental offices.

The Legislature needs to direct the DEP to do this study to prove that even though we are trapping the excess mercury in the separators, a large percentage is still making its way back to the environment. Maine residents have a right to know the amount of mercury that makes its way to our lakes, rivers and air, and how it is affecting our health and well-being.

There are no longer any excuses for using mercury because of various safe materials of the modern dental era. My husband has practiced dentistry in Maine since 1988 and has never once used a mercury filling for any reason. The only exposure he has is when old mercury fillings break or a patient asks to have an old filling replaced.

To quote the new governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, “When you do something bold you get detractors.” The principal detractors to the end of mercury fillings always have been, and have been only, the American Dental Association and all the agencies they have lobbied in their attempt to make sure that this can never happen. True science always has shown evidence of great harm to health and the environment when mercury is placed inside the body.

Great lengths have been taken to prevent mercury from outside the body entering the body. Button cell batteries, auto switches, fever thermometers and the new CFL light bulbs have been restricted. We have to take extreme measures for less than 5mg of the same elemental mercury in a CFL bulb if one gets broken. But what are you going to do about the 82 mg in an average mercury filling that has been placed in a child or women of childbearing age?

It’s time to overthrow this hostile regime that has for more than 170 years defended the use of a poisonous substance that has been linked to various health and environmental problems. It’s also time to end the ADA’s directing state dental boards to silence any dentist who would question their authority.

Even though the federal government has called for a mercury amalgam phaseout, we cannot afford to wait for this action to be completed. We must take immediate action to stop this act of putting poison in the mouths of our most vulnerable population.

Pamela J. Anderson works in her husband’s dental office in Houlton.

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