The Maine Board of Dental Practice may be engaging in antitrust violations, according to a petition filed with the Federal Trade Commission by three nonprofit groups — Consumers for Dental Choice, Organic Consumers Association and Mercury Policy Project. At issue is what the complaint calls two competitive factions that have divided modern day dentists: those who use mercury and those who do not.
"The differences are so distinct," the petition notes, "that they can be classified into competitive submarkets." But the complaint alleges that the Maine Board of Dental Practice "is indisputably on one side — working to keep public funds going to that faction of dentists and not enforcing distribution of the Maine amalgam fact sheet, as required by law."1
State Dental Board Accused of Breaking Mercury Laws
State law requires that dentists who use amalgam, or mercury, fillings (also known, misleadingly, as "silver" fillings) give patients a fact sheet approved by the state, which is intended to explain "advantages or disadvantages" of the use of mercury, mercury amalgams and other materials used for dental fillings.2
The Maine fact sheet was created because dentists using amalgams were referring to them as silver fillings, a misleading statement that was putting patients at risk. According to the petition, only 11% of dentists tell their patients that amalgam contains mercury.
"Aware that dentists are concealing amalgam's mercury from patients — and/or calling them silver fillings — the Maine Legislature enacted a statute applicable only to the amalgam-users, instructing the Director of Health to write a fact sheet about amalgam's contents, risks, and alternatives, and directing that the dentists still using amalgam give it to patients and post it on the wall of the clinic."
The petition alleges, however, that the Maine dental board is engaging in a variety of actions to evade enforcing this requirement. In a news release, it's stated:5
"For example, the dental board advises dentists that compliance with the mandate is optional (although it is required), and the board held a secret vote to ally with the Maine Dental Association to defeat a state law that would shift MaineCare to mercury-free dentistry.
The dental board has proposed a rule regarding disclosure, but it fails even to mention the Maine fact sheet law or the official fact sheet … "
The petition sums up, "The board continues its combinations to keep the public uninformed, the fact sheet law unenforced, and the amalgam-using dentists shielded from the statutory mandate to post the state-prescribed fact sheet and to give to patients and parents/guardians."6
Maine Dental Board 'Not Above the Law'
The petition asks the FTC to investigate the Maine Board of Dental Practice to reveal whether they're enforcing and adhering to the law — and suggests that if not, the state's governor should appoint a new dental board. As noted by Katherine Paul of the Organic Consumers Association, "The Maine Dental Board is not above the law."7
Charlie Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice, a former antitrust law specialist, further explained, "The behavior of the Maine Dental Board raises serious antitrust questions because the board is protecting the income of the pro-mercury dentists. This board must redirect its loyalty from protecting sales of amalgam to protecting Maine's families and consumers."8
It's essential for people to be aware of the true make up of "silver" fillings, as they are approximately 50% mercury. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal, one that can cause harmful effects to your nervous, digestive, respiratory and immune systems. It's known to damage both the kidneys and the lungs in humans.
The World Health Organization notes that health effects from mercury exposure include tremors, impaired vision and hearing, emotional instability, paralysis, insomnia and developmental deficits during fetal development.9
Mercury exposure has also been linked to attention deficit and developmental delays during childhood, with WHO noting, "[M]ercury may have no threshold below which some adverse effects do not occur."10 In other words, even very small doses of mercury may be harmful. It's for this reason that, in 2018, the European Union banned the use of amalgam for children under 15 as well as for pregnant or nursing women.