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American Dental Association Pleased With UNEP Treaty Outcomes

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Statement by Robert A. Faiella, DMD, MMSc, President, American Dental Association

CHICAGO—The American Dental Association (ADA) is very pleased by the agreed upon provisions related to dental amalgam included in the United Nations Environment Program proposed mercury treaty. Delegates from more than 130 countries gathered in Geneva to develop the global treaty aimed at limiting emissions.

Burning of coal is the largest single manmade source of mercury in the environment. The treaty also considered a number of other sources such as small-scale gold mining and the Chlor-alkali sector. Five products were also discussed, including dental amalgam which is used to treat cavities. Dental office best management practices established by the ADA can prevent up to 99 percent of waste amalgam from entering the environment. 

Caries, the disease that causes tooth decay, afflicts 90 percent of the world's population making this a global public health issue. The ADA is gratified that the treaty conditions pertaining to dental amalgam protect this important treatment option without restrictions for our patients while balancing the need to protect the environment. It is vital for people throughout the world to continue to have access to a safe, durable, affordable treatment for tooth decay.

The ADA is also delighted that the proposed treaty recognizes the need for national programs to prevent oral disease and calls for more research into developing new treatment options.

Long term, it is critically important to raise global awareness of the importance of oral health to overall health, including how to prevent dental diseases. Doing so decreases the need for all cavity-filling and other restorative materials, including dental amalgam.

Made by combining metals such as silver, copper, tin and zinc with elemental mercury, dental amalgam has entirely different physical and chemical properties than mercury alone. Amalgam has been used safely and effectively for generations to treat tooth decay. Gold and tooth colored materials are also available, and dental amalgam use has declined considerably over the past few decades; however tooth-colored materials can be less durable, more costly and in some clinical situations not as ideal as dental amalgam.

The ADA appreciates the willingness of the U.S. delegation from the State department, Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to consider and be guided by the best available scientific information pertaining to dental amalgam.

The FDI World Dental Federation, comprised of more than 200 national dental associations including the ADA and dental specialties, and the International Association for Dental Research have long supported a phase down approach to the use of dental amalgam to be accomplished by focusing on preventive strategies to reduce the disease that causes tooth decay.

In addition the organizations support other measures called for in the treaty such as increased research, development of alternatives to dental amalgam and best management practices that involve capturing and recycling amalgam waste.

The ADA is particularly pleased that the treaty calls for setting national objectives aimed at dental caries prevention and health promotion.

Much is at stake when it comes to the world’s oral health. Oral conditions such as caries (cavities), periodontal (gum) disease, dental infections and other oral conditions share common risk factors (unhealthy diet, alcohol and tobacco use) with four chronic diseases recognized by the United Nations as non-communicable diseases: cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory and diabetes.

Some oral conditions and infections can increase the risk for all four of these non-communicable diseases. According to the World Health Organization, 36.1 million people worldwide died from conditions such as heart disease, strokes, chronic lung diseases, cancers and diabetes in 2008.

By phasing up global preventive strategies, we can tremendously improve oral health outcomes and by extension overall health outcomes. Countries must make concerted efforts to raise awareness and empower healthier behaviors. Virtually all dental disease can be prevented through simple measures such as brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, flossing daily, eating a balanced diet, and not using any tobacco products. Professional dental visits are also critically important to monitor, diagnose and treat oral conditions so people can enjoy a lifetime of good oral health.

About the American Dental Association

The not-for-profit ADA is the nation's largest dental association, representing 157,000 dentist members. The premier source of oral health information, the ADA has advocated for the public's health and promoted the art and science of dentistry since 1859. The ADA's state-of-the-art research facilities develop and test dental products and materials that have advanced the practice of dentistry and made the patient experience more positive. The ADA Seal of Acceptance long has been a valuable and respected guide to consumer dental care products. The monthly The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) is the ADA's flagship publication and the best-read scientific journal in dentistry. For more information about the ADA, visit www.ada.org. For more information on oral health, including prevention, care and treatment of dental disease, visit the ADA’s consumer website www.MouthHealthy.org.