Drilling for mercury

GET A LOAD OF THIS GUY Assemblyman Dick Dickerson, has authored a bill to outlaw the use of mercury in dental fillings.

GET A LOAD OF THIS GUY Assemblyman Dick Dickerson, has authored a bill to outlaw the use of mercury in dental fillings.

Photo by Tom Angel

Strong teeth: Contributions from the dental community so far account for more than $57,000 in Sam Aanestad’s war chest in his bid for the state Senate. The money came from dentists’ insurance companies, oral surgery centers, professional organizations and at least 40 individual dentists. The California Dental Association PAC gave him nearly $5,000 in monetary and nonmonetary contributions.

Second District Assemblyman Dick Dickerson, R-Redding, vigorously denies that he’s taking a drill to fellow Republican Assemblyman Sam Aanestad, but it sure looks that way.

In March, Aanestad, a Grass Valley oral surgeon who represents the Third District, defeated Dickerson in the Republican primary race for the Fourth District state Senate seat. During the campaign, Aanestad enjoyed heavy financial backing from the state’s dentists’ PAC. Now Dickerson is pushing a new bill that could have a major impact on the dental industry, but he denies that it’s payback.

Assembly Bill 2270 would phase out and then, in 2007, fully ban the use of amalgam fillings containing mercury, so-called “silver” fillings. It parallels proposed federal legislation, HR 4163, that would ban interstate commerce in mercury amalgam beginning the same year.

Aanestad has been a strong supporter of the use of amalgam fillings. The dentists’ groups that backed him in the election insist that amalgam fillings are perfectly safe and less expensive than such alternatives as gold and porcelain fillings. No scientific evidence exists linking the amalgam fillings to disease, they argue.

That may be, replies Dickerson, but why gamble? “There are no studies showing mercury fillings are safe, but there is unchallenged scientific consensus that mercury is highly toxic … yet the dental industry insists on using mercury as the main ingredient in fillings—and then engaging in an extraordinary act of deception by calling the fillings ‘silver,'” he says in a press release.

“This is not politically motivated,” Dickerson, bristling somewhat at the suggestion, said in a phone interview. “The political race between Aanestad and me is over. This is an issue of public-health concern, and that is all.”

Amalgam fillings came up during the campaign for the March election. Prior to the election, a group called the California Citizens for Health Freedom Committee held a Chico press conference taking Aanestad to task for supporting amalgam fillings. The group contends that there is good reason to be concerned that the mercury in the fillings over time leaches into a person’s body, causing illness. They especially worry that it may be a primary cause of Alzheimer’s disease, though such a link has not been scientifically established.

Oral surgeon and Assemblyman Sam Aanestad argues that the bill is unnecessary because the fillings are safe.

Photo by Tom Angel

Aanestad did not return several phone calls seeking comment by press time.

Dickerson notes that the federal legislation is co-authored by a liberal Democrat, Rep. Diane Watson of Los Angeles, and a conservative Republican, Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana. Watson, a former California legislator, has publicly expressed support for Dickerson’s bill. The California Medical Association also opposes the continued use of mercury-containing products in health care.

As Watson points out in a recent press release, “Mercury is the most toxic non-radioactive element and the most volatile heavy metal. The disinfectant Mercurochrome is banned. Mercury preservatives are no longer used in contact-lens solutions.”

She notes also that the California Legislature recently banned mercury thermometers and reconstituted the state Dental Board with members charged with implementing a state law requiring the board to produce a consumer fact sheet on the risks of amalgam use.

Dickerson’s bill would prevent the use of amalgam fillings in minors and pregnant or lactating women and force dentists to warn patients of the dangers of mercury before banning all use of amalgam in 2007.

This is a serious public health issue that cuts across geographic, party and ideological lines, Dickerson states. "It is simply reckless to continue to place this toxic element in our bodies—and the bodies of children and pregnant women."