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Study says dental mercury may pose no significant health risk.

The U.S. Public Health Service released in January an evaluation of mercury-containing dental amalgam--silver fillings--that says, in essence:* there is no solid evidence of any harm for millions of Americans who have these fillings; and* there is no persuasive reason to believe that avoiding amalgams or having them removed will have a beneficial effect on health.The report, Dental Amalgam: A Public Health Service Strategy for Research, Education and Regulation, states that amalgam has continuing value in maintaining oral health.Amalgam has been in use for more than 150 years, but the study was undertaken because of questions raised about the long-term effects of its mercury content. Mercury, at high levels, can produce poisoning symptoms.Amalgam fillings do release small amounts of mercury vapor which can be absorbed by the body, the report stated. According to the report, mercury could cause allergic reactions in a few persons, but "there is scant evidence that the health of the vast majority of people with amalgam is compromised."The report did determine, however, that more extensive scientific evidence should be gathered to completely rule out any possibility of long-term health risks from amalgams--or from alternative substances that might be used--and recommended a research program to resolve these uncertainties.James Mason, M.D., who as HHS assistant secretary for health and head of the Public Health Service ordered the study, said, "This report makes clear that, except for a very few people who may be allergic to substances in the amalgam, there is no scientific justification for refusing to have amalgam fillings or for having them removed." A report at a National Institutes of Health biotechnology conference in 1991 said there were only 50 documented cases of reactions to amalgam in medical literature since 1906.Produced by the Committee to Coordinate Environmental Health and Related Programs (CCEHRP), which includes representatives of federal health-related agencies, the report recommended that the PHS promote the use of fluorides, sealants and other measures to avoid dental cavities and, thus, the need for fillings. Manufacturers also should be required, the report states, to disclose to dentists the ingredients in restorative materials so that dentists may help patients avoid substances to which they may be allergic.Dental amalgam is a mixture of several metals including silver, tin, copper and mercury. The mercury provides the strength and cohesiveness necessary, and the resulting amalgam is a popular material for filling cavities because it is strong, durable and relatively inexpensive. Amalgam is used in about one-half of the 200 million cavity-filling procedures performed annually: the other half uses such materials as gold, ceramics and plastics.The CCEHRP study is the product of 25 months of work. Public Health Service agencies represented include: the National Institutes of Health; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Health Resources and Services Administration; the Indian Health Service and the Food and Drug Administration. The Environmental Protection Agency and outside experts in toxicology, biomaterials and clinical dentistry also assisted in the preparation of the report.
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Title Annotation:EH Update
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Environmental leadership in a public health agency.
Next Article:The health impact of hazardous waste sites on minority communities: implications for public health and environmental health professionals.

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