From: Reuters
Published January 15, 2008 12:29 PM

Amalgams pose no risk to human health, EU report says

By Anna Stablum

LONDON (Reuters) - Amalgam fillings for teeth, containing mercury, pose no health risk to the human nervous system, an EU scientific committee said on Tuesday.

The opinion supports arguments by some dentists and governments, who have said the material is safer and more durable than alternatives. But the results caused a stir among patients' organizations who argue amalgam is dangerous, because of the known side effects of mercury.

"The facts do not add up -- mercury is the third most toxic poison in the world and we are still putting it in people's mouths," said Becky Dutton of patient organization Mercury Madness.

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The EU said it had investigated claims of a link between amalgams and a variety of systemic conditions, particularly neurological and psychological or psychiatric effects.

"It is concluded however, that no risks of adverse systemic effects exist and the current use of dental amalgam does not pose a risk of systemic disease," it said.

Mercury, which accounts for 50 percent of an amalgam filling, persists in soil, water and living organisms. While high doses can be fatal, relatively low doses have been linked to adverse neuro-development impacts.

Most countries advise against use of amalgam for children and pregnant women due to its impact on brain development, but patient organizations believe the rest of the population, carrying an average of 2.5 grams in their mouths, is also at risk.

The list of effects from mercury poisoning goes from mild tremors due to neurological damage and kidney problems to autism and even Alzheimer's, according to advocates for a European ban.

The EU report said no studies had shown that dental personnel suffer classical signs of mercury intoxication.

"All I can say is that if mercury/amalgams are so safe why have three countries just banned them?" anti-mercury campaigner Dutton asked.

This month the Swedish government is expected to decide on a ban, while Denmark and Norway are taking similar steps.

Another patient organization in Spain said it rejected the provisional report because it was partial and ignored the World Health organization (WHO) and other scientists' recommendations.

"The main dentist organization before the ADA (the American Association of Dental Surgeons), already in the 1830s saw a clear relation cause-effect with amalgam...and prohibited its members to place amalgams in people's mouths," the Spanish National Association MERCURIADOS told Reuters in an email.

The opinion provides the EU with scientific advice needed when preparing policy in relation to its wider mercury strategy, which has for example banned the use of mercury in barometers.

The report was prepared by the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) and is made up of external experts.

A public consultation will run to February 22, after which the EU could potentially revise the preliminary report.

Then it is up to the scientific committee to adopt the final opinion and the timeline depends on the number and sort of comments received, the European Commission told Reuters.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)

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