Mercury madness

WILL LIBERAL SEATTLE listen when a conservative Republican lectures them on the dangers of dentistry? King County Council member Kent Pullen, R-Kent, sure thinks so. Recently Pullen has been mounting every available platform to decry the use of mercury in dental fillings. The American Dental Association (ADA) declares that mercury fillings, widely used because of their low cost and durability, are harmless.

Last week, Pullen brought the debate to the King County Board of Health’s meeting (he’s a member of the board). The board heard testimony from pro- and anti-mercury fillings panels.

And what was learned? Scientists said it’s still not conclusively known whether fillings release significant amounts of mercury into the body. But studies have disproven the ADA’s original assertion that fillings don’t emit any mercury vapor at all. Those findings have spurred larger, more comprehensive studies that are ongoing. There’s also the curious fact that the filling compound is treated as a hazardous substance when handled in dentists’ offices, considered toxic when it escapes into the water supply, but deemed safe when it’s stuck in a patient’s tooth.

Of course, no matter the outcome of the debate, what can the Board of Health do about it anyway? Pullen says the county should mount an educational campaign that would inform patients of the potential hazards of mercury fillings. But Pullen, who’s not exactly recognized as the most respected critic of mainstream medicine, continues to have problems establishing credibility. For months, Pullen has been publicly praising Seattle and King County Public Health director Alonzo Plough for, Pullen claimed, moving to ban the use of mercury fillings in children’s teeth at county dental clinics. But Friday, Plough demurred, saying that Pullen misunderstood his statements. Plough insists Public Health is only trying to step up preventive dentistry that minimizes the use of fillings in general.

Kevin Fullerton