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Government Endangers Childrens' Health

27 July 1999

Graham Capill
Party Leader


On the eve of an announcement by the Ministry of Health, reviewing its amalgam fillings policy, damming evidence has come to light that the Ministry's mishandling of the issue could have put children's lives at risk.

In March of this year, dentists were advised that because of the high toxicity of dental amalgam 'it would be prudent to avoid, where clinically reasonable, the placement or removal of amalgam fillings during pregnancy'. The Ministry therefore asked dentists to take into account this information in their assessment of patient needs.

Yet information secured under the Official Information Act by the Christian Heritage Party reveals that the Ministry of Health has been sitting on this information since the British Department of Health decision was publicized in December 1997.

"It is incredible to think", stated the Party's Leader Graham Capill, "that the government has been withholding the UK material since December 1997, and only now, fifteen months later, has decided to make it known.

"What I want to know from the Minister, is how many unborn children were put at risk by his Department's inaction?

"It is more than mere coincidence that once we started making our own investigations into the government's policy on dental amalgam earlier this year, the Minister quickly moved to cover his back with this press release", stated Capill. "Within days of an Official Information request from ourselves, the Minister's letters were being sent to practising dentists advising them of a statement from the Department of Health in the United Kingdom on the placement or removal of amalgam fillings during pregnancy.

"Yet the potential problem is greater than that", Capill noted, "as most New Zealanders over the age of 30 years have multiple dental amalgams." It is estimated that as a total population we have between 20 to 40 million amalgam fillings.

Mercury makes up 50% of amalgam fillings and is more toxic than Lead and Arsenic. Low-grade chronic mercury intoxication has been associated with symptoms of anxiety, irritability, outbursts of temper, stress, intolerance and depression. At a more serious level, mercury has been implicated in Alzheimer's Disease, causing damage to developing foetuses, depleting the immune system and leading to kidney disease in animals.

While conclusive proof for a direct causal link between some of these health problems has thus far eluded researchers, there is enough cautionary evidence to lead a number of Western European nations throughout the 1990s to initiate phasing-out programmes of all new amalgam fillings.

"Yet the Ministry of Health's debacle over the warning to pregnant women is only the latest slip-up in an appalling saga of foot-dragging and plain old-fashioned in-action", Mr Capill said. "Just when it looked like the government was getting its act together in establishing a panel of experts to examine the issue in 1997, it then promptly proceeded to ignore most of their recommendations.

"Why commission a group of knowledgeable medical professionals to undertake the 1997 review and then ignore their recommendations? It is incredible to think that the Ministry could be so willing to play Russian Roulette with our nation's health", Mr Capill commented.

"Certainly, the future of the long anticipated review of government policy does not bode well if past experience is anything to go by.

"For example, one of the 1997 report's most important sections highlighted in the 1997 policy statement noted the need for dentists to comply with the New Zealand Health and Disability Act's Consumer Rights. Code Six of the Act, requires that a person receiving a filling must be advised of the expected risks, side effects, benefits and costs of any procedure, including dental fillings.

"The evidence I have", stated Capill, "is that dentists routinely fail to warn patients of the potential risks associated with mercury based fillings as required by the Health and Disability Codes.

"How many New Zealanders who have been to the dentist in the last two years were made aware of the threat amalgam fillings may pose to their long-term well-being? Very few, I suggest. Dentists who do take their obligations under the Codes seriously are few and far between and it is up the Minister to ensure dentists are carrying out Ministry of Health directives."

The only major initiative undertaken by the Ministry of Health in accordance with the recommendations of the 1997 report is the establishment of a study of New Zealand Army personnel dental records.

Even here though, serious concerns have come to the attention of the Christian Heritage Party. Canadian, Dr. Mark Richardson, who worked on the Canadian government's study on the toxicity of amalgam, has pointed out that the Army personnel are not representative of society in general as they are selected and screened for being particularly healthy and within a fairly narrow age range. He also noted that it was a concern that there was apparently no amalgam-free control group in the New Zealand Defence Forces' study to provide comparative results.

The Christian Heritage Party believes that in the short term the government should follow two paths. First, it needs to ensure that dentists are warning their patients of the potential risk associated with amalgam fillings in accordance with the Health and Disability Codes. Second, the government should extend its subsidy for amalgam fillings for children to include less toxic alternatives.

As a long term objective the government needs to consider following the European model and begin phasing out amalgam fillings with a view to having dental clinics 'amalgam free' by the year 2010.

In addition the Christian Heritage Party wants the whole process for handling possible dental amalgam poisoning cases by the ACC overhauled. In the period 1 July 1992 to 6 May 1999, ACC received 30 claims for mercury poisoning resulting from amalgam fillings. Of these, 24 were declined, three were withdrawn and the claimants are currently reviewing a further three.

"ACC and the Ministry of Health are working hand-in-glove in this whole affair", says Capill. "Our research indicates that there have been serious lapses of judgment and a lack of caution being brought to a serious health problem by both these institutions. ACC's refusal to even give these claims an adequate hearing, thanks to the one-sided information distributed by the Ministry of Health, impinges on the credibility of the Corporation and the confidence New Zealanders have in it." Mr Capill said.

Contact: Party Leader Graham Capill (021) 661 766


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