One of the great ironies of life is that as our sense of safety increases, we often wind up taking more risks. For instance, as football helmets have been modified over the years, play has gotten rougher and more concussions occur. As sportswriter Dave Zirin put it in an interview on Democracy Now!, “Ironically, the more they make the helmets, quote-unquote, ’safer,’ the more dangerous it gets, because players feel like they can be more reckless and launch themselves at other players.”
Are we now seeing something similar going on in the dental world with respect to mercury fillings, now that the FDA has vouched for their safety – a decision clouded by alleged conflicts of interest? Between this and the ADA’s intellectually weak and problematic claims about mercury amalgam, there may be a developing sense amongst our newest dentists that there is simply nothing to worry about.
This can be seen in a recent Ft. Wayne News-Sentinelarticle on the ongoing movement to ban the use of mercury in dentistry and mainstream dentistry’s perpetuation of the “controversy.” (As far as we’re concerned, there simply is no controversy. There’s sufficient evidence of mercury’s risks and little but anecdotal evidence of and problematic research on its safety as a filling material.)
Dr. Jeffrey Platt, a Fort Wayne native and director of Indiana University School of Dentistry’s Dental Materials Division, was surprised what his upper-level students told him recently. In previous years when he posed the question of whether patients the students see in the university’s dental clinic had inquired about amalgam’s safety, “50 percent to 75 percent said they had discussed it with patients. This year, for the first time, I’ve had less than a third say they’ve had that discussion,” Platt said.
Perhaps the response his students gave him just a week ago is a fluke, but Platt conjectures it may be anecdotal evidence that safety concerns are waning because the FDA did not ban dental amalgam and the agency’s six-year review of its safety uncovered no critical concerns.
On the other hand, could it be that fewer are asking because they’re already informed of the risks of dental mercury on human health and are simply going through the motions, placing amalgams just to get through dental school? We know of a number of excellent, conscientious dentists who have practiced successfully for years without ever having placed a mercury filling after dental school, having decided during their education that it was not something that they wanted to do.
Or could it be that they’ve bought into the “controversy” myth and just don’t want to “go there” or risk conflict with the patients they work on in university dental clinics?
Then again, maybe Platt’s conjecture is right. After all, there’s not just the influence of the FDA’s decision, but that of corporate dentistry, as well. Its defenders spew out so much talk that minimizes the risks of mercury, as in this typical statement by a dentist in an article on choosing between composite and amalgam fillings :
Amalgam fillings are a conglomerate of metals mixed with small amounts of mercury.
“Small amounts”? Mercury is the dominant metal in that “conglomerate.” At least half of every dental amalgam consists of it. Mercury is present in the metallic powder base and, in liquid form, is used to mix that powder into a form that can be packed into a prepared tooth and carved into shape. Half is not a small amount by any stretch of the imagination.
But for sheer rhetorical flourish, a post from the 1-800-Dentist blog takes the proverbial cake, making mercury seem cool and “natural”:
Are you a fan of earthy metals and the chemical elements of our planet? If so, and you are in need of a dental filling, then amalgam may be just the thing for you!
In the dental industry, amalgam, aka mercury, is a material that is commonly used to fill in any holes or pits (also known as cavities) that one may have in his or her teeth.
Many people may believe that amalgam is a single material in and of itself. In fact, “amalgam” is actually a combination of a few materials that many chemists and fans of earthy metals would be happy to hear about.
To begin with, amalgam is partially composed of liquid mercury (Hg). Mercury is a silvery white metal that is used in, among other things, thermometers, barometers and some types of lighting.
Next on the list of amalgam properties is silver (Ag). Silver is a lustrous white metal that has commonly been used for making jewelry, eating utensils and currency coins.
Also in the pot of amalgam boil is copper (Cu). Copper metal has been in use for thousands of years. The most recent contributions have shown up in the U.S. penny, some forms of decorative artwork and plumbing.
If that is not enough for you chemistry and earthy metal fans, there is also zinc (Zn) and tin (Sn).You can research those yourself.
If becoming “one with the earth” is truly your chemistry dream, then amalgam is probably the way for you to go.
Interestingly, the writer – not a dentist or scientist, but an employee of 1-800-Dentist – adds at the end that despite all that coolness, she’s still “sticking with composite or porcelain.”