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Philadelphia Commissioner Unveils Plan To Strip Mercury Warnings From Dental Fact Sheet

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Freya Koss, Director and founder – PA Coalition for Mercury-Free Dentistry,
Phone: 610-649-2606, e-mail: frekoss@aol.com.

PHILADELPHIA, December 11, 2013 -   While the world takes the first step forward to eliminate mercury in dental amalgam fillings, Philadelphia takes a step backward!  Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz has unveiled a plan to strip the city’s current Dental Amalgam Containing Mercury- Information Sheet of factual warnings concerning the risks of mercury in these fillings.

Parents and patients will now be told that mercury, a known neurotoxin, is merely “a kind of metal” and only a problem in “high levels.”  Instead, the Commissioner has declared white non-mercury composite fillings unsafe, a filling material used exclusively by 50% of U.S. dentists.  (attached  – proposed Dental Fillings -  Information Sheet)
The Department of Health will present its revised fact sheet for Board consideration Thursday, December 12 at 5:30 pm, at 1301 JFK Blvd., Room 1450, Philadelphia.    Stakeholders invited to testify are:  Freya Koss, President and Founder, PA Coalition for Mercury-Free Dentistry, Charlie Brown, National Counsel, Consumers for Dental Choice and representatives of two pro-amalgam dental societies.  Injured consumers including Karen Palmer, a Pennsylvania dental assistant harmed due to occupational mercury exposure, Leslie Smith, Carol Ward and mercury-free dentists will attend.   The public is welcome.

Championed by City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, the current information sheet based on Brown’s 2007 Use of Mercury in Dentistry Ordinance , offers substantive facts pertaining to the health consequences of amalgam silver fillings containing 50% mercury.  It has been helpful to patients and parents who knew nothing of the potential health consequences of these fillings and assisted them in making informed choices.   Philadelphia is the first city in the nation to require an amalgam fact sheet joining the states of CA, CT, MA and VT.

Considering Commissioner Schwarz’s arbitrary decision to substitute certain amalgam warnings with risks of Bisphenal a (BPA) in composite is absurd says Freya Koss, president and founder of the PA Coalition for Mercury-Free Dentistry, based on the following:

  1. The monumental signing by the U.S. and 93 other countries of the world’s first legally binding Mercury Treaty calling for the phase down of mercury containing amalgam fillings. Upon U.S. ratification, the State Department applauded the Treaty as “A global step forward to reduce exposure to mercury, a toxic chemical with significant health effects on the brain and nervous system.”
  2. Considering the preponderance of scientific evidence substantiating the dangers of mercury amalgam fillings together with the scientific articles submitted directly to the Department of Health (DOH) it is apparent that this body of indisputable documentation has negligently been ignored by DOH administrators. (submitted articles available upon request)
  3. The decision to substitute certain amalgam warnings with BPA composite warnings was admittedly based on the findings of a single article, Maserejian, N, et al, Dental Composite Restorations and Psycholosocial Function in  Children. The very same authors published a follow-up article: Maserejian, N, et al, Dental composite restorations and neuropsychological development in children:Treatment level analysis from a randomized clinical trial concluding:  “the neurobehavioral effects seen in children from composites were small and that further studies were needed” and further, that “Dental composite restorations, statistically showed insignificant associations with impairments in neuropsychological testing.

Another premise expressed by Commissioner Schwarz necessitating the revocation of certain health warnings is to assure that underserved children’s cavities are filled, irrespective of the toxicity of the filling material. Dentists serving these children at clinics such as Special Smiles, complained that parents of these children refused to sign the fact sheet after reading the health risks associated with mercury fillings, thus blocking placement of mercury amalgams in their children’s teeth.   Admittedly, dentists at these clinics have been known to give ultimatums to these parents to accept amalgams or go elsewhere, and therefore some parents chose not to fill their children’s teeth with a toxic material as they could not afford to go elsewhere. (See:  A Toxic Mouthful: the Misalignment of Dental, KMcGrath, Boston College Journal of Law & Social Justice,5-23-13)

Koss says there is no scientific evidence nor practical reasoning to support the proposed revisions and/or the refusal to treat patients who reject amalgam fillings, as evidenced by information received in an e-mail to Freya Koss from Dr. Paul Westerberg, DDS, MBA, Pennsylvania  Department of Welfare’s Chief Dental Officer:

“The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare currently offers dental benefit coverage for both composite resin and amalgam restorative materials under the Medical Assistance Program.  This coverage extends to both children and adults who are eligible for dental benefits, and has been in place for many years.  Dentists treating Medical Assistance consumers and their patients have the option to choose the type of restorative material used.”
(Westerberg letter attached)

Based on Dr. Schwarz’s admitted understanding of the benefits of the Medical Assistance Program, the question remains why the Philadelphia Department of Health has not investigated why Medical Assistance benefits are not being honored in clinics such as Special Smiles!

The fee schedule for these fillings may be found at:
hhtp: //www.dpw.state.pa.us/ucmprd/groups/webcontent/documents/documents/p_002906.pdf.

In a recent letter to Commissioner Schwarz from James Love, attorney for the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology and principal author of two Petitions sent to the FDA concerning amalgam reclassification (video interview), scientific articles were cited demonstrating the hazards of mercury fillings and the safety of composite resin fillings.    In Love’s opinion, “the basis for emphasizing BPA warnings is flimsy at best and contraindicated at worst”, and  ”the decision to exclude legitimate warnings about mercury exposure from amalgam fillings ignores a very substantial scientific record and is plainly irresponsible. “ (Love’s letter attached – articles available)

Moving forward – We have been advised if the proposed information sheet is approved by the Philadelphia Department of Health’s Board of Directors following the December 12 meeting, dentists will not be permitted to directly distribute it to patients.  Rather, the Board must provide notice of a new regulation, hold a public hearing upon request, vote again, and finally send it to City Council for another vote. Koss says, with Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown’s longtime commitment to consumer protection,   she’s feels confident that should there be a hearing, the proposed changes in the fact sheet would not muster approval by the Council.

What has occurred is an example of how, in various ways, the Department of Health and the dental clinics have attempted to derail the purpose of Reynolds Brown’s 2007 City Council Ordinance calling for informed consent among the city’s population about a significant health and environment issue.

Attached:  1. Press Release;   2. Proposed  Dental Fillings Information Sheet, 2013,   3. Dr. Westerberg letter, 4. James Love letter – Available for interview –- Freya Koss on site or phone; Karen Palmer, on site;  James Love via phone, Blanche Grube, DMD via phone,      Contact: Freya Koss to arrange for interviews.

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Westerberg letter:

Subj:    RE: PA dentists give disadvantaged children a mercury free smile day
Date:    1/11/2005 8:50:48 AM Eastern Standard Time
From:    pwesterber@state.pa.us
To:    FreKoss@aol.comCC:    jebertrand@state.pa.us, mroan@state.pa.us
Ms. Koss,
The Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare currently offers dental benefit coverage for both composite resin and amalgam restorative materials under the Medical Assistance Program.  This coverage extends to both children and adults who are eligible for dental benefits, and has been in place for many years.  Dentists treating Medical Assistance consumers and their patients have the option to choose the type of restorative material used.  Thank you for your interest.  I hope this information proves helpful.
Paul R. Westerberg, DDS, MBA
Chief Dental Officer
Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare
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