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May 07 2015

General Dental Council warns against misleading mercury claims

Amalgam

We contacted the General Dental Council (GDC) last year explaining that we are aware of a significant number of “mercury free” dentists who appear to be making misleading and unsubstantiated claims regarding the safety of amalgam fillings. It appears that these dentists are misleading patients and carrying out procedures for which there is no clinical justification and which are not in the patients’ best interests. Moreover, in March 2015 we submitted formal complaints to the GDC regarding five “mercury free” dentists who all appear to be making misleading claims regarding dental amalgam.

After we raised these concerns, we are glad to report that the GDC has clarified its position on amalgam-free, or “mercury free” dentistry.

The April 2015 edition of the GDC Update for Dental Professionals, emailed to all dental professionals and recently published on the GDC website, features a short article on the use of dental amalgam.

Although there are several legitimate reasons why dentists and their patients may choose alternatives to dental amalgam, no evidence supporting amalgam removal for supposed health benefits has been found. There is no clinical justification for removing clinically satisfactory amalgam restorations, except in patients suspected of having allergic reactions.

The April 2015 GDC Update reminds dentists that patients should not be led to believe that the use of dental amalgam is unsafe. Any dentists providing misleading information to patients, or pressuring patients to undergo treatment that is either not necessary or is more expensive than a suitable alternative, could be in breach of standards.

The article in the GDC Update for Dental Professionals is as follows:

 

Dental amalgam

The GDC appreciates that there are a number of registrants who choose to offer amalgam-free dentistry, and that there are a number of patients who choose amalgam-free dentistry as their preferred option for treatment.

We welcome the fact that different services and different treatments are available to patients, so that they have greater choice with regards to their treatment options. However, we would like to take the opportunity to remind registrants of their obligations under the Standards to ensure that patients have enough information to make informed decisions about their treatment.

Ultimately, the use of mercury in dental amalgam is permitted by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and so whilst some patients may choose to opt for mercury-free dentistry, patients should not be led to believe that the use of dental amalgam is unsafe.

The ‘Standards for the Dental Team’ make it clear that registrants must not mislead patients. This would include making misleading claims about the safety of mercury in dental amalgam, encouraging or pressuring patients to have treatment that is more expensive and not in their best interests, and putting financial gain before the needs of the patient. The following principles would be relevant in this case:

  • 1.3 – You must be honest and act with integrity
  • 1.4 – You must take a holistic and preventative approach to patient care which is appropriate to the individual patient
  •  7.1 – You must provide good quality care based on current evidence and authoritative guidance

Should a registrant be found to provide misleading information to a patient, or pressure a patient to undergo treatment that is either not necessary or is more expensive than a suitable alternative, they could be in breach of these standards.