Amalgam target of city action

After nearly a year of consideration by two community advisory commissions, the Berkeley City Council voted 6-3 last week in favor of a resolution that encourages, but does not require, reduced use of dental amalgam and other potential sources of mercury exposure. 

The final resolution is consistent with CDA’s belief that the decision to use amalgam should remain an informed choice that is made by each individual patient in consultation with his or her dentist. CDA and the Berkeley Dental Society will continue monitoring the city’s implementation of this resolution.

The City Council considered five separate proposed resolutions, with varying provisions ranging from mandating that patients receive a specific informed consent statement on the alleged dangers of dental amalgam, to requiring that dentists provide the state Dental Materials Fact Sheet to patients before every restoration — allowing patients to sue dentists for failure to comply with those requirements. 

While the resolution passed by the Berkeley City Council requests a number of actions by city staff or by dentists in the direction of phasing out the use of dental amalgam, it stops short of mandating that dentists move in that direction, and does not create any new litigation threat.

Several dozen anti-amalgam activists from around the country attended and testified at the meeting, as did members of the Berkeley Dental Society. The BDS and CDA had been active participants throughout the nearly yearlong discussion with the city, emphasizing in particular that the state Dental Board’s oversight of standards of care should preempt any direct local interference with the dentist-patient relationship.

“Berkeley is just the latest of several California cities that have looked at this issue in recent years,” said CDA President Lindsey Robinson, DDS. “While we recognize that there are differing opinions about dental amalgam, CDA is very concerned about local ordinances that attempt to interfere with a patient’s right to decide whether to utilize a safe and cost-effective option for dental treatment.”  

In addition to Berkeley, resolutions supported by anti-amalgam activists calling on dentists to phase out the use of amalgam were passed in the cities of Costa Mesa and Malibu, while a similar effort in the city of Long Beach was thwarted only because a local dentist was contacted by a city official whom he knew personally.

That’s why CDA urges local dental societies to be engaged in their communities.

“We strongly encourage member dentists and component staff to monitor their local city council and board of supervisors’ agendas and work to develop positive ongoing relationships with their elected officials,” Robinson said. “Dentists in Berkeley would have been faced with city-specific regulation of their practices and the threat of litigation if the Berkeley Dental Society and CDA had not been engaged in the process from the beginning. Establishing those connections will make it much more likely that local officials will seek a balanced perspective when issues like this are brought forward in other cities.”

CDA urges dentists and component dental societies, if they become aware of any city or county amalgam/mercury activity, to contact CDA’s public policy staff at 800.232.7645, ext. 4984.

Topics: Advocacy