Compelling new data on what consumers don't know about dental mercury and who's responsible for this major gap in patient awareness.
After decades of hearing their mercury-based dental fillings called “silver” and “amalgam” by their dentists and the FDA, it shouldn’t be surprising that Americans are feeling more than a little misled about what’s being put in their mouths.
A new report released today by Consumers for Dental Choice, based on a poll by Zogby Analytics, makes clear that deliberately misleading terms for mercury-based dental fillings have led to deliberately misled consumers.
A copy of the report and poll findings is available here.
The bottom line, according to Zogby’s poll of 1,508 Americans: A significant majority (57%) aren’t aware that neurotoxic mercury is the primary ingredient in “silver” or “amalgam” dental fillings and nearly one-in-four (23%) believe that silver is the primary ingredient.
Other key findings from the Zogby survey include:
- Only about one-in-ten (11%) of Americans report ever being told by their dentists that amalgam fillings are mostly mercury.
- And, two-out-of-three (66%) of the poll respondents believe their dentists do not provide them with enough information about alternatives to mercury-based dental fillings to help them make informed decisions for themselves and their families.
Consumers for Dental Choice released the Zogby results as part of a special report today. That report, "Measurably Misleading", set out to measure exactly how little most consumers know about what’s in their dental fillings, and how this lack of knowledge affects their healthcare decision-making.
Joining Consumers for Dental Choice in endorsing the findings of the report are: the Mercury Policy Project; Organic Consumers Association; International Indian Treaty Council; Alliance for Natural Health and Clean Water Action.
According to Charlie Brown, executive director of Consumers for Dental Choice: “We knew, of course, that Americans were being misled about mercury-based dental fillings through the use of terms like “silver” and “amalgam.” What we learned through this poll is just how measurably effective these word games have been and the implications all this deception has for policymaking. What is clear through this research is that it’s time for the FDA to stop misleading and start leading when it comes to American families’ right to know what’s in their dental fillings.”
The key problem behind all these misled consumers is the fact that the FDA has failed to provide consumer labeling or patient education when it comes to mercury-based dental fillings. Without that labeling and education, misleading terms like “silver” and “amalgam” are all the information most consumers get from the FDA, the dental industry and their own dentists.
Not surprisingly, nearly two-out-of-three (63%) of Americans, according to the Zogby poll, consider the term “silver fillings” to be misleading.
“Under FDA law and regulations, “mislabeling” and “misbranding” are defined as ‘incorrect,’ ‘inadequate’ or ‘incomplete’ information. If mercury-based dental fillings were regulated under that law – as they should be – terms as incorrect as ‘silver’ or as inadequate and incomplete as ‘amalgam’ would no longer be permitted,” Brown explained.
There’s strong support for greater government engagement in protecting Americans’ right to know the mercury content of their dental fillings and what non-mercury alternatives are available.
In fact, as Zogby found, regardless of their politics, region or demographics, a strong majority of Americans (55%) want government action – a government agency or court – to stop the marketing of mercury dental fillings using misleading terms like “silver.” Only 17% of Americans are opposed to government action.
And conservatives are as likely as liberals (53% and 55%, respectively) to support government action to crack down on misleading dental mercury marketing.
In spite of all this, the FDA’s official policy position on dental mercury – as expressed in its rule on amalgam as published in the Federal Register – is to actually advocate for its increased use.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a Game Changer
A new international agreement, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, led and signed by the United States, commits all participating nations to scale down and phase out mercury – including, specifically, dental mercury – to clean up their environments and the planet. This agreement emerged from President Obama’s strong desire to lessen children’s exposure to mercury, and is an important part of his Administration’s environmental legacy.
"The reality is that the FDA’s historic unwillingness to bring dental mercury under its branding and labeling rules not only creates an insurmountable obstacle to Americans’ right to know what they’re putting in their mouths, it also now puts our country effectively out of compliance with provisions of this environmentally-critical international agreement," according to Brown.
“You can’t phase down dental mercury unless the FDA gets in line with the goals of the Minamata Convention and agrees to full consumer transparency and education on mercury-based dental fillings. It’s this simple: Americans can’t make the decision to consume less dental mercury if they don’t even know they’re getting dental mercury,” Michael Bender, executive director of the Mercury Policy Project and a key advocate for the Minamata Convention, explained.
Following the report briefing, Consumers for Dental Choice and their allies introduced an online petition campaign asking the Secretaries of State and Health & Human Services (HHS) to work together to require that the FDA implement a set of policy recommendations designed to assure Americans’ right to know the content of their dental fillings while assuring the United States world leadership in lowering dental mercury through the Minamata Convention.
As the research shows, the net effect of decades of misleading marketing of dental mercury led to a measurable lack of product awareness, as reflected by this comment from a poll respondent: “You [this poll] are the ones that made me aware of mercury being used in fillings.”
By working together across departments and agencies to deliver the kind of strong government action Americans are calling for on dental mercury, and implementing a strong labeling and consumer education program, the Obama Administration has the power to make sure comments like the one above become a thing of the past.
A copy of the report and poll findings is available here.