I read with concern the April 19 OpEd “Maine taxpayers should no longer pay for mercury dental fillings,” which urges Mainers to support legislation limiting dental treatment options for the state’s most vulnerable children and families.
The authors ignore scientific evidence, resort to scare tactics and presume to know more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration when it comes to this dental filling material, which is known as dental amalgam.
These fillings have been used for more than 100 years and are made from a combination of metals, including silver, copper, tin and mercury. Dental amalgam has entirely different properties than mercury by itself.
Numerous respected organizations such as the American Dental Association, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization all agree that based on extensive scientific evidence, dental amalgam is a safe and effective cavity-filling material.
The Mayo Clinic also concurs that dental amalgam is a safe and durable choice for dental fillings. Mayo also notes that “there are several kinds of mercury. The mercury (methylmercury) found in water that can build up in fish and lead to health problems if you ingest too much is not the same type of mercury used in amalgam.”
It’s important to note that the vast majority of man-made mercury emissions are due to coal-fired utility plants. Dentistry accounts for less than 1 percent of mercury released to the environment, according to the EPA. I, too, am proud of Maine’s beautiful environment, which is why I, like every dentist in this state, have installed an amalgam separator, a device that collects waste amalgam preventing its release to the environment.
In recent years, the use of dental amalgam has declined due to the availability of more attractive, though more costly, tooth-colored, composite materials. Still, because of its durability and its ease of placement, dental amalgam remains an important option for dentists to treat decayed teeth. For instance, it may be used in patients with decay in areas that are very difficult to keep dry, such as below the gumline on a back tooth in an elderly patient.
Also, because dental amalgam fillings last longer than the tooth-colored ones, they are very useful for patients who face challenges with seeing a dentist — something that happens for a variety of reasons, including travel time required, anxiety, costs or even other health conditions requiring attention.
When it comes to dental amalgam, state lawmakers who make important public health decisions should be good stewards of our tax dollars. Don’t be misled by lawyers or pseudo-scientists who have their own agendas. Consider the respected organizations and federal agencies that have evaluated the evidence and continue to support the use of dental amalgam for all patients — public and privately insured alike.
Maine dentists care deeply about the health of all dental patients. I urge you to join me in opposing LD 1161 and ensuring that our state’s most vulnerable patients retain access to the oral health care treatment options they deserve.
C. Bradford Rand is a dentist in Brewer.