American Dental Association owes no legal duty of care to protect the public from allegedly dangerous products used by dentists


The legal position of the American Dental Association (ADA) on the safety of mercury containing dental amalgam and the use of the material by dentists in the United States was recently stated as follows:
“The ADA owes no legal duty of care to protect the public from allegedly dangerous products used by dentists. The ADA did not manufacture, design, supply or install the mercury-containing amalgams. The ADA does not control those who do. The ADA’s only alleged involvement in the product was to provide information regarding its use. Dissemination of information relating to the practice of dentistry does not create a duty of care to protect the public from potential injury”.


Attorney Jim Love of
The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology
discusses aspects of the Tolhurst case

Source: Legal brief filed in 1995 by attorneys for the ADA in W.H. Tolhurst vs. Johnson and Johnson Consumer Products, Inc.; Engelhard Corporation; ABE Dental, Inc.; the American Dental Association, et al., in the Superior Court of the State of California, in and for the County of Santa Clara, CA, Case No. 718228.

This legal position adopted by the ADA seems to contradict the organization’s publicly stated mission. According to their own web site (

“The ADA is the professional association of dentists dedicated to serving both the public and the profession of dentistry. The ADA promotes the public’s health through commitment of member dentists to provide quality oral health care, accessible to everyone. The ADA promotes the profession of dentistry by enhancing the integrity and ethics of the profession, strengthening the patient/dentist relationship and making membership the foundation of successful practice. The ADA fulfills its public and professional mission by providing services and through its initiatives in education, research, advocacy and the development of standards.”

Somehow the ADA’s stated mission of promoting public health does not require the organization to protect the public even when their own member dentists are following ADA guidelines and standards of care for the use of mercury containing dental amalgams.

For the uninformed public, most dental amalgam contains approximately 50% elemental mercury by weight (see amalgam composition)

To find out what the ADA “really meant” by its statements regarding the use and safety of dental amalgam in the Tolhust case see

In contrast to what they say, the American Dental Association has endorsed Crest toothpaste and at least 1,300 other products. (NYT, 8/13/97) according to the Integrity in Science project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit group in Washington, D.C. CSPI is funded largely by its many members and somewhat by philanthropic foundations; CSPI receives no corporate or government funds. The project is directed by Ronald Collins (

Responding to the lawsuit, California State Sen. Diane Watson authored, and Gov. Gray Davis signed, Senate Bill #934 in 1992. That bill required that a mercury amalgam fact sheet be given by the dentist to the patient, and that the patient read it before any mercury fillings are placed. Also responding to the lawsuit, the Environmental Law Foundation, a California nonprofit watch-dog group, in 1993 issued a directive to amalgam manufacturers to provide health warnings concerning their products.

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