Bill to prohibit the use of mercury in dental fillings


Congresswoman Diane Watson 

Statement by Congresswoman Diane Watson  
(D-Los Angeles) 

Mercury in Dental Filling Disclosure and Prohibition Act

Los Angeles, California

November 5, 2001

In times like these, there are toxins that we don't know much about - 
how to control them, their source, and their impact. But there are 
toxins that we DO know about -- toxins that we know do not belong in our 
bodies, toxins that we can do something about. My bill addresses that 
very problem. 

Mercury is an acute neuro-toxin. It is the most toxic non-radioactive 
element and the most volatile heavy metal. In recent years, it has been, 
or is being, removed from all health care uses, save one. 

- Antibiotics have replaced oral doses of Mercury. 

- The disinfectant Mercurochrome is banned. 

- Recently, the Centers for Disease Control ordered Mercury preservatives 
  removed from childhood vaccines. 

- Mercury preservatives are no longer used in contact lens solutions. 

- This year, legislatures in California and several other states banned 
  Mercury thermometers. 

When Governor Gray Davis signed bills addressing Mercury in thermometers 
and in dental fillings, he said, "Mercury is a persistent and toxic 
pollutant that bioaccumulates in the environment." 

In recent years, the American Public Health Association, the California 
Medical Association, and Health Care Without Harm have all called for 
the elimination of putting any Mercury in the human body.

Today, I am announcing legislation to disclose and phase-out the last 
major use of Mercury in the human body. The fillings that organized 
dentistry wrongly calls "silver" are mainly Mercury, not "silver." 
Mercury is the major ingredient in each filling, about one-half gram 
per. In the words of Professor Boyd Haley of the University of Kentucky, 
that is a "colossal" amount of Mercury in scientific terms - as much, in 
fact, as is in a thermometer. A teenager with six fillings has six 
Mercury thermometers worth of Mercury in his or her mouth.

The Mercury in the fillings is volatile, such that - as all authorities 
concede - poisonous vapors are constantly being emitted from the 
fillings, more so when one chews or passes hot liquid over the teeth. 
The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry of the United States 
Public Health Service reports that those poisonous vapors go first to 
the brain and kidneys. For the developing brain - and by that I mean a 
child's brain - a major health risk exists.

It is in fact children who are at greatest risk from these fillings. The 
government of Canada recommended back in 1996 that dentists not place 
fillings in the mouths of children or pregnant women. (The 1999 report 
on Mercury by the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry says 
Mercury passes through the placenta into the developing child's brain.) 
In 1997, a major manufacturer of dental amalgam, Dentsply, said that 
amalgam is CONTRAINDICATED (translation: DO NOT USE) for children and 
pregnant women, as well as for those with braces, Mercury 
hypersensitivities, or kidney problems. Another manufacturer, Vivadent, 
added a contraindication for nursing mothers. (That 1999 government 
report says the Mercury goes through the mother's breast milk into the 

Why don't consumers already know this? The answer is a disappointing 
one. Organized dentistry is extremely divided on this issue. My bill, in 
fact, is supported by the American Academy of Biological Dentistry. But 
the American Dental Association tells the public that the fillings are 
safe. The ADA does not tell the public that it accepts payments from the 
amalgam manufacturers while it pronounces their product safe. I wish to 
note that the American Medical Association has a policy prohibiting the 
organization from taking money for product endorsements. The ADA, by 
contrast, accepts money from the manufacturers of the products it 
endorses, which certainly hurts its credibility in my mind.

The public does not know about the presence of Mercury and its risks for 
two reasons. First, the fillings are falsely called "silver." This term 
is deceptive, because there is much more Mercury than silver in the 
product. It's time to call it what it is, and quit hiding the large 
presence of Mercury. Second, the ADA has a rule that gags dentists from 
talking about the risks of Mercury amalgam, a rule that some dental 
boards enforce against dentists who call for the elimination of Mercury 
in dental fillings. I understand that rule is being challenged by 
dentists in federal court in Maryland based on the First Amendment. 

Developments in this area have been quite encouraging this year in my 
state. In 1992, as a state Senator, I wrote a law that required the 
Dental Board of California to write a "Fact Sheet" about the "risks and 
efficacies" of dental fillings. My goal was to ensure the public could 
make informed choices about Mercury dental amalgam. But the Dental Board 
continued to ignore the law and, in recent years, defy the Davis 
Administration's insistence that it comply with this law. After an 
impasse, including the Board refusing to show up for a hearing in Los 
Angeles on this issue, the Legislature stepped in and shut down the 
Board. I am told that never before has the California Legislature shut 
down a board before its Sunset date expired. In January, a new Dental 
Board will come into existence. 

A major environmental issue exists here. When removed from a patient's 
mouth, Mercury amalgam is a hazardous waste, and it is often improperly 
disposed of. The more Mercury that goes into people's teeth, the more of 
it that will end up in our water supply. I am delighted, therefore, that 
San Francisco-based Clean Water Action is supporting my bill, and I look 
forward to other environmental groups joining us in this effort.

The occupational risk is significant. Dental employees are constantly 
exposed to the vapors. Women in dental offices have lower fecundity 
(pregnancy) rates, more miscarriages, and more problem births; Mercury 
exposure is the likely reason. Dentists have the highest suicide rate of 
any profession; depression leading to suicide is consistent with a 
diagnosis of Mercury toxicity.

Mercury amalgam is dangerous before it is put in the mouth - any dental 
journal will tell you that - and it is considered hazardous waste after 
it has been removed. Who can conclusively say it's safe in between, when 
it is in our bodies?

A major social justice, or environmental justice, issue exists here. 
While the public lacks informed choice, low- and moderate-income people 
have it worse: they have no choice at all! For families on Medi-Cal, the 
children get Mercury - or nothing. It is outrageous that low-income 
Americans are forced to have such a toxic material put in their mouths. 
I understand that the Rhode Island legislature adopted a law this year 
to provide choice in insurance plans, and that the state of Maine 
permits Medicaid children to get alternatives to amalgam - so, yes, we 
can do it differently.

Mercury, and all other poisons in the body, hurt the body's immune 
system - its ability to withstand diseases and biologically harmful 
agents. If at any time in our nation's history we need strong immune 
systems, it is now. The stronger our bodies, the more able we are to 
fend off biological agents that have so tragically been placed in our 

My bill will protect children, pregnant women, and nursing mothers 
immediately - regardless of their income. Henceforth, amalgam will bear 
warnings that they not be placed in these most vulnerable people. And 
there will be health warnings for all consumers of amalgam, also 
immediately. Then, there is a five-year phase out of Mercury amalgam. 
That will give dentistry plenty of time to shift to alternatives that 
exist in today's market - resin, porcelain, and gold - or to develop new 

Dentistry says amalgam is fine because it has been in use for 150 years. 
This statement makes no scientific sense. We have abandoned other 
remnants of pre-Civil War medicine, and we have abandoned all other uses 
of Mercury. It is no longer a question of if, but when, Mercury dental 
fillings will be history. I say five more years is time enough. 


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