WHO envisions 'phasedown' of dental amalgam

A global ban on amalgam would be "problematic" in the near term, but the United Nations should pursue measures to "phasedown" the material, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert said at a conference on mercury reduction.

Carolyn Vickers spoke June 11 on behalf of WHO at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), where representatives from around the world are trying to negotiate a treaty for reducing mercury pollution.

Noting that mercury is toxic, Vickers estimated that 300 metric tons of mercury are used in amalgam worldwide every year.

Denmark, Norway, and Sweden have imposed tight restrictions on the material, but most countries continue to use it because of the expense of alternatives such as composite resins and glass ionomers, she said.

Dentists often prefer to use amalgam where there is "excessive moisture in the mouth" or time is limited, she said, according to a presentation from the meeting.

Banning the substance would pose particular problems in the developing world, where cost is especially an issue.

Instead, Vickers advocated a program of promoting alternative materials; researching and developing new, low-cost alternative materials; promoting disease prevention; and educating dental professionals and the general public about the risks of using amalgam.

Vickers also discussed other health-related uses of mercury, including in thermometers, vaccines, and blood pressure measuring devices.

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