Judges Block Dental Board Gagging Dentists Who Discuss Risks of Mercury Fillings

For Release Aug. 1st, 2000 | Contact: Charles Brown | 202-462-8800

Advocates of informed choice in dentistry are hailing an injunction issued by a Maryland judge that holds that state's Board of Dental Examiners in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

Dentistry is increasingly divided between a majority who continue to place "silver" amalgam fillings - a misnomer because they are mainly mercury - and a minority who believe a potential health danger exists to placing such a toxic material permanently in the mouth.

A growing consumer movement urges that consumers be given informed choices and warnings about mercury toxicity before having fillings placed. Notably, Health Canada has urged the nation's dentists to stop giving mercury amalgam to children, pregnant woman, and people with kidney disorders, and the California Dental Board recently termed the mercury in amalgam "hazardous" and issued warnings about the potential effects of mercury amalgam on unborn children.

The Maryland Dental Board - composed of majority dentists named by the state's dental trade association - had ordered its dentists to inform patients that no studies point to adverse health effects of mercury amalgam. Calling the order both a "gag rule" and patently false - in that a growing body of literature condemns mercury use anywhere in the human body, two national consumer organizations, several Maryland consumers, and a Maryland dentists sued in state court.

In the case of Dental Amalgam Mercury Syndrome, Inc. (DAMS) v. Maryland Board of Dental Examiners, Circuit Judge Stuart R. Berger of Baltimore ruled on July 27 that the state agency that regulates dentistry violated the state law requiring that all policies must be voted on in open session and recorded in the minutes of meetings.

Charles 0. Brown, a Washington lawyer and counsel for the plaintiffs, called the ruling "a turning point" in the battle for informed consumer choice:

"The Dental Board tried to gag Maryland dentists from discussing both sides of the mercury amalgam debate, denying consumers access to information they need to make informed choices. Now, it's clear that this state agency operates by secret session, hiding its agenda from consumers and taxpayers alike. We are grateful that Judge Berger's order requires the Board to come out of hiding and pass its rules in full public view."

The two national consumer groups are Dental Amalgam Mercury Syndrome, Inc., ("DAMS"), a Minneapolis-based organization whose members suffer chronic diseases emanating from mercury amalgam poisoning, and Citizens for Health, a Boulder, Colorado, consumer group with over 100 chapters whose mission is health freedom.

Carol Ward, national vice-president of DAMS, called the ruling "a victory for parents to know the truth before their children get fillings, and for pregnant women to have the chance to get warnings before they get fillings." Ward, a Philadelphia resident, added: "Maryland's neighbors believe consumers should hear both sides of this debate. My home state of Pennsylvania has a rule accepting both kinds of dentistry as equal, and Delaware's policy is that dentists should talk frankly with their patients without the heavy hand of government interference." Susan Haeger, president of Citizens for Health, called on the Maryland Dental Board to "stop being a dentist protection agency and start being a consumer protection agency. Why can't the Board trust the consumer to learn the whole truth, then make their own decisions about their mouth?"

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