American Dental Association pleased with global treaty outcomes

Nov. 18, 2013

The American Dental Association (ADA) is pleased by the provisions related to dental amalgam included in the global mercury treaty signed by a representative of the United States on Nov. 6. U.S. ratification of the treaty is subject to Senate approval. Many other countries signed the treaty in Minamata, Japan, in October; however, the U.S. was unable to do so due to the government shut down.

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The treaty upholds the use of dental amalgam, a durable, safe, effective cavity-filling material. Caries, the disease that causes tooth decay, afflicts 90 percent of the world's population making this a global public health issue. Unlike other products addressed in it, the treaty places no restrictions on the use of amalgam. Instead, the treaty calls for signatory countries to set national objectives and implement programs aimed at dental caries prevention and health promotion. The ADA also supports the treaty’s call for more research into new dental treatment options.

The ADA is pleased that the treaty carries forth the ADA’s long commitment to capture and recycle amalgam waste. Dental office best management practices established by the ADA can prevent up to 99 percent of waste amalgam from entering the environment through capture and recycling.

By phasing up global preventive strategies, we can improve oral and general health outcomes world-wide. In addition, raising global awareness of the importance of oral health to overall health, including how to prevent dental diseases, decreases the need for all cavity-filling restorative materials, including dental amalgam.

The global treaty aims to limit mercury emissions to the environment and sets forth measures pertaining to the burning of coal, which is the largest single manmade source of mercury in the environment. The treaty also considered a number of other sources such as small-scale gold mining and the Chlor-alkali sector. Five products were also considered, including dental amalgam.

Dental amalgam is made by combining metals such as silver, copper, tin and zinc with elemental mercury. As such, dental amalgam has entirely different physical and chemical properties than mercury alone. Amalgam has been used safely and effectively for generations to restore teeth damaged by tooth decay. Dental amalgam use in the U.S. has declined considerably over the past few decades primarily because people prefer more natural-looking, tooth colored materials. However, tooth-colored materials can be less durable, more costly and in some clinical situations not as effective as dental amalgam.

The ADA encourages people to talk with their dentists about their dental treatment options. More information on dental amalgam and other restorative materials may be found on
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