World Health Organization Report Suggests “Phase Down” of Dental Mercury Amalgam Globally

WHOGENEVA, Oct. 11, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The World Health Organization today released its long-awaited 2009 meeting report on the “Future Use of Materials for Dental Restorations” in preparation for the third of five Intergovernmental Committee deliberations that are expected to lead to the adoption of a legally binding treaty on mercury by 2013. Hailed by consumer groups as a “breakthrough,” the WHO report suggests, over time, the global “phase down” of amalgam.

“When an amalgam ‘phase down’ was proposed during the meeting, there was much support,” said Michael Bender, who attended the meeting representing the Zero Mercury Working Group and is the director of the U.S.-based Mercury Policy Project. “This report reflects this and represents the first step towards phasing out amalgam globally.”

According to the report:

“Mercury is one of the ten chemicals of major public health concern that WHO prioritizes. Dental amalgam is a significant source of exposure… National, regional and global actions, both immediate and long-term, are needed to reduce or eliminate releases of mercury and its compounds to the environment.

WHO is committed to work with the health sector and national, regional and global health partners to:

  • reduce mercury exposure;
  • eliminate the use of mercury wherever possible;
  • promote the development of alternatives to the use of mercury;
  • lead the profession in the negotiations of the development of the legally binding instrument on mercury.

Jointly with WHO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has strengthened the work to reduce risks to human health and the environment from the use and release of mercury. UNEP is supporting the work of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee established to elaborate a legally binding instrument on mercury. The mandate of this committee is set out in UNEP Governing Council decision 25/5. In seeking to reduce mercury use and release, the treaty may have implications on the delivery of oral health care worldwide.

On this background, the WHO Global Oral Health Programme – in cooperation with UNEP Chemicals – organized a two-day meeting to discuss the implications and the way forward. The aim of the meeting was to assess the scientific evidence available on dental restorative materials and the implications to countries of using alternatives to amalgam for dental restorative care.”

For primary (baby) teeth, the WHO report states that, “Alternative restorative materials of sufficient quality are available.”

“The report makes clear that alternatives are here today worldwide for children, who are the ones most vulnerable to amalgam’s neurotoxic effects,” said Charlie Brown, president of the World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry. “For example, mercury-free atraumatic restorative treatment (ART) is especially suitable for children.”

In addition to noting exposure risks to dental personnel and patients, the report also states that a “significant amount of mercury” is released to the environment from dental amalgam use. This results either from: “…an indirect result of the diversion of traded amalgam for other purposes or as a result of improper waste management practices or through cremation.”

“It was evident from the meeting presentations that mercury-free dental fillings are already widely used in some countries, so reality may be overtaking policy decisions,” said Bender. “Medical insurance covering alternative materials could be crucial for a swifter transition allowing mercury-free tooth-colored fillings to become the rule and not the exception.”

For more information:

WHO report:

UNEP mercury programme:

NGO websites:

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