CDC Investigates Mysterious Cluster of Dentist Deaths

Dental amalgams are an occupational hazard that have been tied to an elevated risk of reproductive failure in young female dental workers. It turns out this may just be the tip of the iceberg. A CDC report revealed a cluster of dentist deaths and it is likely that exposure to toxins in the workplace are responsible. 

Currently, about 200,000 Americans suffer from Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF), an irreversible condition that causes permanent lung scarring and has a poor prognosis for survival. Previous research linked IPF to occupations associated with fumes, dusts, airborne fibers and particulates. Dentists were not singled out as being at risk of IPF, but this may soon change.
Over a 15-year period, eight dentists and one dental assistant were admitted to a specialist clinic in Virginia to treat IPF. The Virginia clinic that admitted the nine dental professionals found they were 23 times more likely to suffer from this rare and deadly disease than the population as a whole. 

Eight of the nine dental workers in the IPF cluster are deceased but the surviving dentist was interviewed by the CDC. He is a nonsmoker, and did not use a respirator during his 40-year career. He wore a surgical mask for the last 20. 

The CDC conceded that the dentist’s tasks included, “preparing amalgams and impressions without respiratory protection. Substances used during these tasks contained silica, polyvinyl siloxane, alginate and other compounds with known or potential respiratory toxicity.” 

Silica is specifically problematic and there are known “cases of dental technicians with pneumoconiosis, a restrictive occupational lung disease resulting from inhalation of dust, [which has] been identified after exposure to either silica or cobalt-chromium-molybdenum-based dental prostheses.”

Dental employees are not only subjected to airborne particles, fumes and infectious agents from their patients. Ionizing radiation in the form of X-rays is also a reality for dental workers. 

It is interesting that the CDC downplayed the elephant in the room: mercury. Dental amalgams, mentioned throughout the report, contain anywhere from 49 to 54 percent mercury. The word mercury does not appear once. Yet the neurotoxic properties of mercury are well-established and it has also been shown to cause psychological and immunological problems. 

Amalgam is an incredibly primitive technology. The first widespread use was in the 16th century Ming China, although the practice didn’t arrive in the U.S. and Europe until the 1830s. The use of mercury was controversial from the start. The American Society of Dental Surgeons (ASDS), the U.S. dental association at the time, felt that the use of neurotoxic mercury was malpractice and forced members to sign a pledge to refrain from using amalgams. 
The amalgam controversy led to internecine conflict and the eventual disbanding of the ASPS. The American Dental Association was founded to fill this void and has been a strong proponent and defender of amalgams for the last 160 years.
Little has changed today. Amalgam stays in business because of strong-arm tactics by insurers and government, the scurrilous promotion of amalgam as “silver fillings” by the pro-mercury American Dental Association, and dentists who refuse to train themselves for 21st century dentistry. If your dentist still prefers to put mercury in your mouth, switch dentists.

Referring to an amalgam that is 50 percent mercury as a"silver filling" is a blatantly deceptive marketing practice. As a result, about one-fourth of Americans, quite understandably, think amalgam's main component is silver, not mercury. Did the CDC tread carefully around the mercury issue because of the ADA’s aggressive defense of amalgams? Mercury fumes are a real danger and biological dentists trained to safely remove mercury fillings employ a number of safeguards to protect both themselves and their patients. Were the same rigorous safety protocols employed by the nine dentists admitted for IPF?

The cause of the cluster of dental worker deaths is probably tied to occupational hazards, but the danger posed by mercury extends far beyond the dentist’s office. Consumers for Dental Choice and its leader Charlie Brown continue their full-court-press campaign to bring mercury-free dentistry to the U.S. and worldwide. You can help stop dental mercury today! Please consider donating to Consumers for Dental Choice, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating mercury-free dentistry.

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