Amalgam ban causes a stir

Denmark has announced plans to ban the use of amalgam in dental procedures, echoing a similar move by Norway and Sweden earlier this year.

The Danish ban will come into place on 1 April 2008, while the Norwegian and Swedish legislation has been in effect since 1 January.

Swedish officials cite both health and environmental reasons behind the move. Danish spokespeople also indicate the material has been banned because composites have improved to the point that they are now a viable alternative to amalgam.

Jakob Axel Nielsen, Danish Minister for Health, said: ‘Composite fillings have now become so strong that… we can expand the ban to also include amalgam fillings.’

Norwegian legislation bans the material by imposing restrictions on mercury itself, citing primarily environmental reasons.

In an official statement, Erik Solheim, Norwegian Minister of the Environment and International Development, said: ‘Mercury is among the most dangerous environmental toxins. Satisfactory alternatives to mercury in products are available, and it is therefore fitting to introduce a ban.’

He also hailed the move as ‘an important signal’ to the EU, which plans to start restricting mercury’s use and exports from 2009, but has not yet acknowledged any problem in its use as a filling material.

A report by an EU scientific committee published earlier this year failed to find any link between mercury use in amalgam and health problems.

This report has not deterred the opposition lobby, which claims that the health risks of mercury as a substance are well-documented, regardless of whether the method of delivery has an effect.

Some dentists point to a general unwillingness on the part of European governments to open themselves up to litigation by admitting the risk, an attitude that has faced heavy criticism.

One comment posted on our online forum, said: ‘In 25 years I’ve not had one patient who accepts a product that warns of systemic poisoning or neurological damage. We are fools to continue to place a toxic poison in people just because the government wants to avoid a litigation tidal wave.’

The move has prompted renewed calls from pressure groups for a similar ban to be introduced in the UK.

An online petition to the government calling for the ban of mercury in dental amalgam attracted nearly 1000 signatures.

The pro-amalgam lobby is just as vocal.

Derek Jones, Professor Emeritus of Biomaterials at Dalhousie University in Canada, and chair of the International Standards Organisation’s Technical Committee on Dentistry, has denounced the ban.

He said: ‘For the past 20 years, the public has been bombarded by sensational, confusing and misleading media reports about health issues related to dental amalgam. The public opinion on this issue has been modified by minority, non-scientific views driven and supported by media sensationalism.’

Jones went on to suggest that the real reasoning behind the Norwegian ban was an attempt to divert attention away from its poor handling of mercury pollution caused by a German submarine wrecked during World War II.

Mercury is not biodegradable, and quickly turns into methylmercury – its most toxic form – once in the environment.

• A new study adds to evidence that mercury-containing dental fillings do not harm children’s brain development.

In the new study, researchers in Portugal and the U.S. followed 507 children who had received either amalgam or resin-based fillings when they were between 8 and 12 years old.

Over seven years, the two groups showed no differences in their rates of neurological symptoms, such as tremors, vision or hearing deficits, or coordination problems.

Dr. Martin Lauterbach, a neurologist at the University of Lisbon in Portugal, led the study.

The findings are published in The Journal of the American Dental Association.

The results add to evidence from two recent studies – including one of this same group of children – that found no evidence that amalgam fillings harmed children’s intellectual or behavioural development.

An advisory panel to the US government recently said that while existing evidence suggests the fillings are generally safe, more study is needed into certain unanswered questions – such as how amalgam fillings in pregnant women might affect foetal development.

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