Dental work danger alert

Aug 2001

A CANCER-CAUSING chemical is being given to tens of thousands of patients fitted with cheap dental crowns.

In the past, crowns were made of pure metals or gold, which are known to be safe. But due to NHS cuts dentists are increasingly using mixtures of cheaper metals including nickel, which is believed to cause cancer. It can also cause life-long allergies leading to inflammation of the gums and sometimes the rest of the body.

A growing number of scientists are demanding that nickel be banned from use in dentistry

One is Professor Dennis Marzin, a world-leading poison expert at the Pasteur Institute in Lille, France. He said: "Metals that have proven or potential carcinogenic properties must be eliminated from dental applications."

David Smith, president of the European federation of dental laboratories, is also worried. "They are putting junk in our jaws to save money, and we are very concerned about that," he said.

Papers read at 18 scientific conferences and printed in 15 specialist journals have warned against nickel in the mouth, he added. Recent estimates show that between 10 and 15 per cent of women and two per cent of men develop life-long allergic reactions to nickel. Many are caused by tooth crowns which contain up to 60 per cent of the metal.

More than 160,000 non-precious metal crowns, many of them containing large quantities of nickel, were fitted to adult NHS patients last year at a cost to taxpayers of more than 13 million.

Health campaigners argue that nickel is increasingly used because it is so cheap - 25p a gram compared to the 4 to 14 paid for precious metals such as gold, platinum and palladium.

"The NHS is trying to stop us using gold," said dental surgeon Roger Hartley, of Coleshill Dental Centre in Birmingham.

"Standard specifications have cheapened steadily, over the past few years and our precious metal options are being systematically closed down." Nickel is also used in other products such as jewellery and spectacles, but under a new European law it is a criminal offence to sell or import any product containing more than 0.05 per cent of the metal because of the dangers.

Despite this the Department of Health insists there is no evidence to suggest that nickel-based crowns are a hazard to health.

‘All dental materials, including non-precious metals for crowns, must meet the requirements of the Government’s Medical Devices Agency and be safe and fit for their purpose," said a DoH spokeswoman.

"We have no evidence to suggest that nickel-based alloys for crowns or bridges are a hazard to health. Dentists are already aware that some people may be allergic to nickel-based alloys."

But David Smith is concerned. He says we should not wait for proof before banning the substance. "Even if the British dental establishment chooses to dispute a mass of research conducted by some of the world’s leading experts, surely the precautionary principle should apply, as it does elsewhere in Europe," he said.

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