More MS news articles for Feb 2002

Safety of dental silver put to debate

Saturday, February 16, 2002 - 12:00 a.m. Pacific
By Carol M. Ostrom
Seattle Times staff reporter

A public forum on the alleged dangers of silver dental fillings drew a capacity crowd yesterday with most blaming the fillings containing toxic mercury for everything from Alzheimer's to cancer.
But two panels of experts who testified in front of the King County Board of Health disagreed on the dangers.

The first panel, comprising researchers from the University of Washington, a respected toxicologist and the head of the state dental association, said there is no credible evidence showing harm.

The second panel characterized amalgam, which is a mixture of metals including mercury, as a deadly poison.

Dr. Victor Barry, head of the Washington State Dental Association and a member of the first panel, read a long list of professional health and dental organizations that have deemed amalgam safe to use.

"I'm here to tell you that amalgam is safe. ... It is scientific fact," he said.

Barry criticized Metropolitan King County Councilman Kent Pullen's assertion that a "growing number of dentists and health officials" say mercury vapors released from fillings can lead to cancer, immune disorders and multiple sclerosis and may be a potential link to Alzheimer's disease.

He said Pullen's statement, released before the hearing, "unnecessarily preys on the fears of patients and the public. I don't think that's responsible."

Members of the anti-amalgam panel, however, sharply disagreed.

Dr. Paul Genung, who practices "health-conscious" dentistry, told the board there was no way to rationalize "the implanting of a deadly poison in the human body."

Genung criticized people's "misguided trust" in their dentists, who he said "blindly cling to an antiquated procedure" predating the Civil War.

"Mercury should have been relegated to the dustbins of history long ago!" Genung said, to a round of applause from the audience.

Christy Diemond, who was in the audience in the County Council chambers, told the board she got her first amalgam fillings in the second grade and had suffered many health problems. Her children, as well, have had physical and emotional problems.

"It was people just like you who made the decisions that exposed me and my family and my loved ones and the world to this," she told the board.

The fillings are still used today.

Alternatives to amalgam include gold, porcelain and synthetic composites. All are more costly and take longer to make, and members of the first panel said little research has been done on composites.

Dr. Alonzo Plough, director of Public Health-Seattle & King County, denied Pullen's assertion that Plough had established a policy against using dental amalgam in the mouths of children.

Public Health's general position is preventive, he said, but if cavities occur in children, how to fill them is a clinical judgment left to dentists. The board of health does not have authority to regulate private dentistry, a department spokesman added.

Pullen had requested the hearing so members of the board and the public would be informed on the issue, he said.

Two major studies, including one at the University of Washington, are under way on the safety of amalgam.

Copyright © 2002 The Seattle Times Company