asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he is satisfied with the safety of dental amalgam.
Dental amalgam has been widely used in this and many other countries for over a century to fill cavities in teeth—over 25 million such treatments were provided under the general dental service in England and Walls in 1983 alone, but very few adverse reactions in patients to amalgam have been reported. Most have been an allergic or sensitivity reaction to mercury which is one of the constituents of amalgam and such patients can have their teeth filled with other materials. I am advised that there is no good scientific evidence which would indicate that any clinically significant amounts of mercury are absorbed by patients from fillings in their teeth. Moreover any small degree of risk has to be offset against the substantial benefits of a material which has been proved to be long lasting, convenient for dentists to use and can be produced at relatively low cost. No other modern material has yet been proved as suitable and convenient for most fillings where appearance is not a consideration.The potential risk to dentists and their staff from the mishandling of mercury in dental practice is well recognised and can be minimised by taking adequate precautions. Guidelines on the safe handling of mercury prepared by the British Dental Association were last revised and issued in the autumn of 1982.Whilst there is therefore no convincing evidence of any obvious health effect on the vast majority of patients nevertheless it is helpful to have a comprehensive review of the evidence from time to time. For this reason I have asked the committees on toxicity and on dental and surgical materials to consider the evidence on the risks and benefits and to let me have their advice in due course.