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Pushing for Change: How Dentistry Schools Can Help

Written by Dan Abril.

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If you’ve been following crucial environment world news, then chances are you’re familiar with the Mercury Treaty that was adopted early this year. The development was welcome by both environmentalists and health experts, stating that the treaty could do wonders in the management and reversal of mercury emissions worldwide.

Mercury is used in a number of industrial, household – and until recently even healthcare products. The Department of Health (DOH)in the Philippines together with the efforts of various NGOs (non-government organizations) worked to remove the use of mercury-containing products in the healthcare sector.

As you may know from our previous post, mercury is a potent neurotoxin and is a vital component of silver fillings or more commonly known as dental amalgams. Research studies conducted by the International Academy Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) in the US have consistently shown that toxic mercury fumes emanating from the amalgam can seep into the body, pollute the bloodstream and cause complications in the nervous, digestive, and respiratory systems. They also warned that aside from the patients, dental health practitioners are at a significant risk from handling dental amalgams.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates use of dental mercury amounts to between 300 – 400 metric tonnes per year thus justifying a need for a phasedown and elimination.
IAOMT in the Philippines, headed by Dr. Lillian Ebuen, has been working for years to get mercury fillings out of dental clinics and schools. With the adaption of Administrative Order 21, which strictly prohibits the use of mercury-containing products in healthcare facilities, Dr. Ebuen is surprised by the lack of mention for dental clinics and schools.

Dr. Ebuen campaigned vigorously and last year she gained momentum as the DOH finally expressed support for the removal of dental amalgams.  The Quezon City chapter of the Philippine Dental Association (PDA) followed suit with a resolution and expressed commitment to their principles of “protecting vulnerable sectors such as children and pregnant women.”
The chapter resolution expresses the endorsement of non-mercury alternatives among its members and encourages the gradual phase-out of dental amalgams in clinics as well as dental schools.

Dr. Ebuen expressed optimism and excitement and sees the move as a step towards the right direction, saying that the academe is vital for change and that hopefully future generation of dentists will be open to more ideas and stay true to their oath of reaching out to the marginalized sectors.   “The influence of the PDA is undeniable and to have the organization on our side and expressing support for our advocacy is of great boost to us. We are optimistic that other chapters of the PDA will follow soon.” Dr. Ebuen said.

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