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Silence On Mercury Risks Breaches Patient Rights

Dentists' Silence On Mercury Risks Breaches Patient Rights

Green Health spokesperson Sue Kedgley is concerned that some dentists are breaching patient rights by not informing patients about the risks of mercury amalgam fillings.

She wants to see posters in dentists' waiting rooms and brochures given to all patients outlining the potential health risks of using mercury amalgam.

Health Minister Annette King confirmed this week, in answer to a written question from Ms Kedgley, that dentists have an obligation under the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer Rights to inform all patients of the risks and benefits of mercury amalgam use compared with other fillings.

Ms Kedgley said there was plenty of anecdotal evidence that dentists were breaching the code by not informing patients of potential disadvantages of using mercury amalgam.

"New Californian legislation requires dentists to use posters and brochures to inform patients about mercury amalgam," she said.

"Dentists here should adopt similar methods to make sure patients are fully informed, and can make their own decisions about what kind of fillings they want in their mouths."

Mercury, a highly toxic metal, makes up 50% of amalgam fillings. Research shows that mercury vapour does not remain inert inside fillings but is released into the mouth, where it enters the blood stream and accumulates in body tissue. The release of mercury vapour is increased by chewing and grinding teeth, and when amalgam fillings are placed and removed.

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Ms Kedgley said she was especially keen to see that women were warned of the risks of putting in or removing amalgam fillings during a pregnancy, following advice from the Ministry of Health in 1998 that dentists should avoid putting in or taking out amalgam fillings in pregnant women.

Mercury from fillings can cross the placenta and accumulate in a developing foetus. Mercury poisoning has been linked to birth defects and neurological problems in children and unborn babies, and to Alzheimers and neurological problems in adults.

Countries including Norway, Denmark, Finland, Austria, Sweden and Germany have moved to ban or restrict amalgam use because of the possibility of adverse health effects and environmental disposal concerns.

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