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Jewish World Review June 18, 2002 / 8 Tamuz, 5762

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow
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Consumer Reports

Killer teeth? | The American judicial system abounds with scare stories and strike suits. Leave it to the trial lawyers to blame almost every human ailment on someone with a deep pocket. The latest cause celebre is tooth fillings.

For more than 150 years dentists have used a combination of metals, including mercury, to fill cavities. Millions of Americans and perhaps billions of human beings have had not just one or two, but up to a dozen, or even more, fillings. People with money typically prefer gold or porcelain. But mere mortals usually choose amalgams. Now a group of fervent but unscientific crusaders, with trial attorneys in tow, has targeted amalgams. Bills have been introduced in Congress and in several state legislatures to ban the use of mercury.

Moreover, the lawsuit tide is rising. Suits in California and Georgia blame autism on amalgams. A Maryland class action charges dentists with fraud in terming amalgams "silver." The fount of amalgam litigation is Shawn Khorrami, a Los Angeles attorney. He has targeted just about everyone: American Dental Association, state dental chapters and a mix of other firms and groups.

Khorrami explains: "We are trying to get rid of mercury," which he proclaims to be "dangerous before it goes into the mouth" and "a hazardous material when it comes out."

He has targeted the American Dental Association for being "out of the medical mainstream." In response to his "campaign of lies and distortions" the association has filed a defamation suit. Contends association chief counsel Peter Sfikas, "The statements that [Khorrami] makes are completely false in that he is aware of the scientific evidence."

The association deserves credit for directly confronting the problem of junk science.

Were amalgams harmful, one would expect to find thousands, or even millions, of injured or even dead dental patients. As Steven Milloy, publisher of, puts it, "There are enough people out there who have amalgam fillings that if there was something going on, I think we would have noticed by now."

We haven't.

Critics rely on anecdotes. Some people with amalgam fillings have also suffered from autism and child development disorders, as well as Alzheimer's and autoimmune disease. And everyone who has ever received a filling of any kind will eventually die.

However, when millions or billions of people receive a particular procedure, it should come as no surprise when some of them suffer from a range of maladies. If correlation equals causation, one could argue that driving a car, being touched by a stethoscope, licking a stamp and drinking water caused autism, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimer's and, ultimately, death. The American Dental Association calls amalgam fillings "safe and effective," and it is not alone in endorsing amalgams.

In February, the Food and Drug Administration affirmed that "no valid scientific evidence has ever shown that amalgams cause harm to patients." Last year Consumers Union observed: "your silver amalgam fillings are doing you no harm."

In 1997, the World Health Organization and World Dental Federation reported "no controlled studies have been published demonstrating systematic adverse effects from amalgam restorations." Six years before, the National Institutes of Health concluded that there was "no scientific evidence that currently used restorations cause significant side effects. Available data do not justify discontinuing the use of any currently available dental restorative materials or recommending their replacement."

True, at high levels of exposure, mercury can be toxic. However, it is a common element, found in fish and other seafood, for instance, and is impossible to avoid. Estimates as to safe daily absorption of mercury range up to 40 micrograms a day, according to the World Health Organization.

In contrast, the absorption rates of mercury from amalgams are estimated at between 1 to 3 micrograms per day. Observes Dr. Stephen Barrett of QuackWatch: "the miniscule amount of mercury the body absorbs from amalgams is far below the level that exerts any adverse health effect."

Thus, in the publication FDA Consumer, Laura Bradbard observed that other than allergic reactions -- fewer than 100 reported cases over the last century -- "research has not shown that low levels of mercury-containing amalgam are harmful." She added: "In a literature review of amalgam research, the U.S. Public Health Service found no sound scientific evidence linking amalgam to multiple sclerosis, arthritis, mental disorders or other diseases."

If people still believe that amalgam fillings are dangerous, they should be able to choose an alternative. And to have all of their old fillings removed, if they desire. But the issue should not be decided by emotional anecdotes and abusive lawsuits. Litigation was once an important means of holding people responsible for their actions.

Unfortunately, as the issue of tooth fillings too well illustrates, litigation has become an even more important means of enriching creative trial attorneys.

JWR contributor Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Comment by clicking here.


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05/24/02: Threatening pharmaceutical innovation
05/14/02: The war crimes fantasy
05/07/02: Paying a high price for befriending Saudi princes
04/30/02: The price of postal monopoly
04/23/02: The war on charity
04/16/02: The forgotten human right
03/27/02: Cuba's struggle to be free
03/20/02: How to defeat Cuban communism
03/12/02: Junk science, redux
03/06/02: Axis of hubris
02/27/02: Washington-style campaign reform: incumbent protection
02/20/02: The grand Enron morality play
02/12/02: Rebuilding what?
02/05/02: Succumbing to the terrorist temptation
01/29/02: Democrats for what?
01/22/02: The Iraqi question
01/14/02: Profiling frequent flyers
01/08/02: Trade, not aid
01/02/02: Treason by any other name
12/26/01: Preserving freedom in an unfree world
12/17/01: Dealing with terrorism's aftermath
12/10/01: Emerging friendships?
12/04/01: Uncle Sam: Insurer of last resort
11/28/01: Expanding the circle of trade
11/20/01: Free to be stupid
11/13/01: The meaning of compassion
11/07/01: Patriotic scoundrels
10/30/01: The coming postal raid
10/16/01: First, do no harm
10/12/01: Good news from a suffering land
10/04/01: Defending whom?
09/25/01: The wrong solution to the wrong problem
09/21/01: The price of terrorism
08/28/01: Uncle Sam's retirement scam
08/21/01: Canberra's quaint naivete
08/14/01: Uncle Sam's false fuel economy
08/08/01: The Clinton administration in drag
07/31/01: The high cost of government
07/24/01: Kill the campaign reform illusion
07/17/01: Do as I say, not as I do
07/11/01: Lawyers at play
07/05/01: Western blundering, Macedonian disaster
06/26/01: How best to honor Bill Clinton?
06/19/01: A maturing Europe?
06/15/01: Tell Beijing to mind its own business
06/06/01: Ukraine's boiling cauldron
05/31/01: Protecting privacy from Uncle Sam
05/22/01: America's Balkan quagmire
05/09/01: The Taiwanese flash point
05/01/01: Globalization serves the world's poor
04/24/01: Who's cheating whom?
04/10/01: The NCAA scam
04/03/01: Balkan stupidities
03/27/01: McCain doesn't want a 'risk for our country'
03/20/01: Dubious Korean alliances
03/06/01: Coercive patriotism
02/27/01: Bombing without end
02/20/01: A dose of misplaced outrage
02/13/01: Psst: Tax cuts for taxpayers. Pass-it-on
02/06/01: Bridging the unbridgeable gap
01/23/01: Left-wing demagoguery
01/16/01: The drug war problem
01/10/01: Politics and trade
01/03/01: Hope for liberty?
12/27/00: The debris of war
12/19/00: What's the rule of law for?
12/15/00: Ending silicone breast implant saga
12/05/00: Election may yield victor, but there are no winners
11/21/00: A Bush presidential mandate?
11/07/00: Exprienced Gore? Yeah, right
11/01/00: Interventionist follies
10/17/00: America's brightening prospects in Ukraine
10/11/00: GOP budget scandals
10/03/00: How a pharmaceutical 'crisis' was created
09/27/00: Clinton's empathy has helped nobody
09/13/00: AlGore's risky budget policies
09/05/00: Military readiness and Korean commitments
08/29/00: Let sleeping hypocrites lie
08/21/00: Targeting a journalistic pariah
08/15/00: European garrison for Kosovo?
08/08/00: Journalistic cleansing at the Boston Globe
08/04/00: Junk science on trial
06/22/00: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty
06/15/00: The end of U.N. peacekeeping
06/07/00: The Clinton regulatory miasma
06/01/00: Administration stupidity, congressional cowardice
05/25/00: The silence of the international community
05/18/00: Protecting the next generation

05/11/00: Freer trade with China will advance human rights

05/04/00: How not to save the Constitution

04/28/00: American tripwire in Korea long ago disappeared: Why are we still involved?

04/18/00: Clinton administration believes the IRS is too gentle, wants more auditors

© 2002, Copley News Service