CDO slams TV ‘mercury amalgam’ programme

England’s chief dental officer has dismissed a TV documentary highlighting the dangers involving mercury amalgam as ‘scare mongering’ and ‘sensationalist’.

CDO Barry Cockcroft, who appeared in the episode of ITV’s Tonight programme, entitled What’s in your mouth?, was unhappy with what was broadcast on Monday 16 February.

He said: ‘I was interviewed for over an hour and any programme that’s going to sensationalist and scare mongering is going to be selective in what it uses.’

The preview publicity had read: ‘Two European countries have now banned mercury amalgam fillings, and America’s health regulator recently issued new advice about how they may harm pregnant women and developing children, so why do British officials seem unconcerned? Morland Sanders asks whether a mouth full of metal could be affecting your health.’

Mr Cockcroft added: ‘Although it compared England to Norway and Sweden, where they’ve banned the use of amalgam, they failed to point out that Norway and Sweden are out of line with the rest of the world. There is copious evidence from all around the world that should reassure patients about the safety of the use of amalgam.’

Also interviewed for the programme was British Dental Association (BDA) chief executive Peter Ward, who was filmed cutting short the discussion and attempting to block the camera lens with his hands.

He has since apologised for his behaviour.
In an open apology to all dentists, posted to his blog on the BDA website, Mr Ward wrote: ’Many of you will have watched the Tonight programme What’s in your mouth?’. For those who did (and indeed those who didn’t) I must offer my full and unmitigated apologies for my performance. The scenes that were broadcast represent a small fraction of the interview that did not follow the sequence I expected and caught me by surprise. That is, however, no excuse for the spoiling tactics I adopted on the spur of the moment. To my colleagues, I would like to say that I am truly sorry.’

Explaining the context from which the clips were taken, Mr Ward said:

‘For the sake of information, you may wish to know that the interview with me was for approximately one hour, during which time I answered many questions on the inertness of amalgam, on the extensive studies that have failed to reveal any connection with harm, the longevity of restorations and the fact that the dental profession has no vested interest in defending the material as they themselves come into contact with it more significantly than their patients. I also pointed out that dentists and their families are patients, too, and that they still use amalgams themselves.’

The BDA was quick to reassure patients about the safety of their mercury amalgam fillings following the programme’s screening on 16 February.

A spokesperson said: ‘The programme, while noting the longstanding use of mercury amalgam fillings and a consensus across all four UK Departments of Health that they are safe, may nonetheless have prompted patients to question the safety of fillings they may already have or are intending to have.

‘Allergic reactions to mercury in dental amalgam have been reported but, according to the European Commission, these are very rare. Some local adverse effects are occasionally seen with filling materials, including allergic reactions, but the incidence is low and normally readily managed. Patients who are concerned should talk to their dentist.

Holistic dentist Dr John Roberts, who also appeared on the programme, has not used mercury fillings for nursing mothers or children since 1987 or in any patients since 1994.

He uses bio-compatible materials at his Integrated Health Practice in Edgerton, Huddersfield.
Holistic dentists believe mercury may adversely affect the body’s energetic system, known to acupuncturists as meridians and cause problems such as infant autism, headaches, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s.

On his website at, he says: ‘Mercury is the second most toxic element found on our planet. It is a known poison and has been used in the past to kill the cause of medical problems.

‘Beyond any doubt elemental mercury is released from dental amalgam fillings, the mercury does pass into the patients body where it lodges into the bodies tissues and even worse it passes into unborn children. We are convinced that this mercury aggrevates or causes health problems for those people with mercury fillings.

‘For this reason I have not placed any mercury fillings into a child, pregnant and nursing mothers since 1987 and have not place any at all since 1994.’


Speaking after the programme, BDA Scientific Adviser Professor Damien Walmsley said:
‘It is important to remember that dental amalgam has been used as a safe, durable and cost-effective material for more than 150 years. Its safety has been the subject of numerous reviews, including a recent one by the EU Commission’s Scientific Committee. That review concluded that there was no evidence of increased risk of adverse systemic effects. However, pregnant women should avoid or delay any dental intervention or medication during pregnancy.’

Online information resources via its website that can be used in conversations with patients. They are accessible at

Elsewhere on the web, dentists have also been quick to reassure patients. Dr Megan Hatfield writes at ‘Please don’t panic about this and immediately rush off to your dentist to get your fillings taken out. By all means, discuss the options with your dentist. In fact, many patients are choosing alternatives to amalgam, but generally for aesthetic reasons… As for me, I will not be rushing to get my amalgam fillings replaced and would not hesitate to have another if my dentist recommended it.’

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