The British Dental Association (BDA) has welcomed a United Nations treaty that aims to reduce mercury pollution while recognising a role in dental care for dental amalgam that contains it.
The treaty will require nations to phase down the use of dental amalgam fillings over an appropriate time period.
The future of this restorative material had been an open question as 140-plus governments participated in negotiations working towards the agreement that aims to reduce releases into the environment.
It had previously been feared that the treaty would require a complete phase-out of the use of amalgam, and that a short deadline would be set for it to be achieved.
The BDA lobbied against such an approach in the UK arguing that more time was needed for oral health prevention programmes to be implemented and produce effects, and for suitable alternative dental filling materials to be developed.
The treaty was agreed last month in Geneva at a meeting of the United Nations’ Environmental Programme’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee.
Stuart Johnston and Susie Sanderson, members of the BDA’s principal executive committee, led international lobbying on behalf of dental associations around the world in campaigning for the pragmatic approach that has been achieved.
Dr Johnston, who led the FDI World Dental Federation Dental Amalgam Task Team at the negotiations, said: ‘Dentists in the UK recognise the environmental imperative to minimise mercury emissions, but it was important that this treaty took account not just of the environmental agenda, but also of the need for dentists to care for their patients.
‘We are pleased to see that this treaty has taken a pragmatic view, acknowledging that the phase-down approach advocated by the World Health Organization is a sensible way to make progress. The final treaty strikes a sensible balance, clearly setting out an aim for reduced use of mercury, while recognising the unique contribution it makes to oral healthcare. It also recognises the important role that prevention can play in improving oral health and reducing demand for fillings.’
A joint statement by the Department of Health, DEFRA and the Devolved administrations said: ‘Protecting the environment is a key government concern in the UK and we welcome plans to reduce the environmental impact of mercury.
‘DEFRA has worked closely with all UK administrations to meet our obligations to reduce the environmental impact of mercury and still make sure clinicians can use amalgam when clinically appropriate. Work will continue to phase down the use of dental amalgam and make sure if it is needed for dental work, it is only used in a capsulated form.’
Beyond phasing down the use of dental amalgam, the treaty also specifies a best practice approach to minimising the release of waste dental amalgam, currently typified by the use of amalgam separators in dental practices that permit the capture, separation and eventual recycling of mercury.