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Consumers for Dental Choice: A Critical Look
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
Consumers for Dental
Choice, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has a curious
name. It does not appear to be a consumer group (most supporters
are offbeat dentists), and its aim is to restrict choice
by banning the widely used amalgam fillings. In addition, its
acronym -- "CDC" -- is the same as that of the U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is a highly
respected public health agency. The group's Web site states:
Consumers for Dental Choice (CDC) was established in 1996
by consumer advocates, mercury poisoning victims, scientists
and mercury-free dentists as a 501(c)(3) non profit organization.
The purpose of the organization is to promote access to mercury-free
dentistry; to legislate informed consent before placement of
mercury amalgams; and, to ultimately abolish the use of mercury
in dental restorations.
Initially, CDC's work was all defensive, fighting to support
mercury-free dentists who were being harassed by state licensing
boards with threats of losing their professional licenses. CDC's
work has now grown to include legal challenges to state regulations
which prohibit mercury-free dentists from advising dental consumers
about the risks of mercury amalgams, as well as support of national
and state legislation to require informed consent before placement
of mercury amalgams, to limit the use of mercury amalgams in
vulnerable populations, and to ban the use of mercury amalgams
for all by 2007.
In addition, targeted litigation has been filed in a number
of states to challenge the deceptive practices of the American
Dental Association (ADA) which continues to perpetuate the fraud
that mercury amalgams are "silver fillings" when the
primary component is mercury (50%), and to make claims of safety
for mercury amalgams when there are no peer-reviewed scientific
studies which support that claim .
Amalgam is the most thoroughly studied and tested filling
material now used. Compared to other restorative materials, it
is durable, easy to use, and inexpensive. The American Dental
Association (ADA), Consumers Union, the FDA, the U.S. Public
Health Service, the World Health Organization, and many other
prominent organizations have concluded that amalgam is safe and
effective for restoring teeth [2-6]. It is safe to assume that
if a better material is developed, the dental profession will
adopt and use it. But Consumers for Dental Choice disagrees.
As stated in a report on Guidestar, its objectives are:
- To legislate informed consent in more states, by requiring
dentists to give dental consumers a statutory form with an accurate
description of the risks of mercury amalgams.
- To abolish the use of mercury amalgams by 2007, by working
for the passage of bills which mandate warnings to consumers
about the use of mercury in dental fillings, and to work for
the passage of bills which ban the use of mercury in dentistry.
- To enforce environmental laws against mercury amalgam --
by working with, or challenging in court, the EPA and State agencies
to stop environmental contamination from mercury amalgams, and
by seeking legislation requiring water disposal filtration systems
in dental offices .
Consumers for Dental Choice is also described as (a) "a
consumer policy research institution managed by the National
Institute for Science, Law, and Public Policy, affiliated with
the law firm of Swankin & Turner" in Washington, D.C.
 and (b) "organized" by Citizens for Health and
Dental Amalgam Mercury Survivors, a group based in Albuquerque,
New Mexico said to be "made up of victims of mercury poisoning
from dental fillings" who seek to "alert consumers
to the risks of amalgams and to ensure that ethical, mercury-free
dentists are permitted to practice." 
Consumers for Dental Choice's national counsel, Charles
G. Brown, is a former West Virginia attorney general who
is a partner in Swankin and Turner. He is also counsel and a
lobbyist for the Coalition to Abolish Mercury Dental Fillings,
the lobbying arm of the movement and is a director of Dental
Choice Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation whose sole purpose
is to raise money for Consumers for Dental Choice . Consumers
for Dental Choice's "national legal counsel" Shawn
Khorrami, of Van Nuys, California, has relentlessly criticized
the ADA and filed several lawsuits against it.
Consumers for Dental Choice and the Dental Choice Fund are
both tax-exempt 501(3)(c) nonprofit organization. Their recent
Form 990 reports provide the following numbers:
Consumers for Dental Choice
|Program services ("education
of consumers about the dangers of using mercury in dental fillings'")
|Professional fees paid
(included in program services). The 2001 figure includes $52,840
paid to Charles Brown.
|Consulting fees (included
in program service)
Dental Choice Fund
- Program services
- (2001: "raised money to support Consumers
for Dental Choice")
- (2002: "public education about the
dangers of using mercury in dental fillings")
|Consulting fees (included in program
service) paid to Brown
The group's Web site identified about 120 supporters. The
minimal annual fee for this is $1,000 for company sponsorships
and $1,200 for professional sponsorships. In April 2004, the
site listed the Wallace Research Foundation (Scottsdale, Arizona),The
Garfield Foundation (Marion, Massachusetts) , a few companies,
a few individuals, and 103 dentists who are also listed in the
site's directory of "mercury free dentists." The Wallace
Foundation has also funded research done by amalgam opponents.
During the past two years, anti-amalgamists have filed more
than 30 lawsuits challenging the use of amalgam and naming the
ADA and others as defendants. In March 2004, American Trial Lawyers
Association held a continuing
legal education seminar hosted by Brown and titled "Mercury
Silver Dental Fillings as the Next Mass Tort." The seminar's
purpose was to encourage more lawyers to file such suits. All
of the speakers blamed the ADA for amalgam's continued use, and
one (Attorney Sandra Duffy) even expressed hope that lawsuits
could "basically drive the ADA out of business." However,
by March 1, 2004, the ADA had been dismissed as a defendant in
33 cases , and I believe the rest will eventually be dismissed.
The most important of these cases was filed by Khorrami and
Brown in 2001 against the ADA, the California Dental Association,
and unnamed dentists by Kids
against Pollution, DAMS, another anti-amalgam groups, and
one individual patient . The suit alleged that the ADA has
made deceptive representations about amalgam, derives income
from advocating amalgam use, and and maintains a "gag"
rule under which it "aggressively lashes out against those
who oppose its views." In May 2003, the California Court
of Appeals concluded that the plaintiffs had presented no evidence
of a "gag" rule and that the dental associations have
a right to express their views about safety of amalgam fillings
and when it is unethical to remove them . The antiamalgamists
have appealed to the California Supreme Court but are unlikely
Meanwhile, the ADA is suing Khorrami for libel in a suit which
characterizes his activities as "a self-promoting campaign
of lies and distortions." The suit seeks compensatory damages
for harm suffered by the ADA and punitive damages to deter further
wrongful conduct against the ADA. The complaint , filed in
May 2002, states:
- Khorrami falsely and maliciously accuses the ADA of defrauding
and endangering the lives of the American public by promoting
allegedly unsafe dental practices -- specifically the use of
dental amalgam fillings -- and exerting "undue and unfair
pressure" on dentists as a result of a purported "vested
economic interest" of the ADA in amalgam.
- Khorrami has falsely stated that, "When scientifically
analyzed, amalgam fillings represent nothing more than a con
on the U.S. population, orchestrated by the American Dental Association
and its web of constituent associations and component societies."
- Khorrami was well aware that numerous scientific and leading
consumer organizations, independent of the ADA, have concluded
that dental amalgam is safe.
- The ADA has no vested economic interest in amalgam.
In January 2004, the district court judge denied Khorrami's
motion to dismiss the suit and concluded that the ADA will prevail
if it proves that its allegations are true . I believe that
Dental Watch Home Page
This article was posted on April 30,
- About us.
Consumers for Dental Choice Web site, accessed April 24, 2004.
- ADA Council on Scientific Affairs. Dental
amalgam: Update on safety concerns. JADA 1998;129:494-501.
- The mercury in your mouth. Consumer Reports 1991;56:316-319.
- Benson JS and others. Dental
Amalgam: A Scientific Review and Recommended Public Health Strategy
for Research, Education and Regulation. Washington, DC: US
Public Health Service, 1993.
Update: Dental amalgams. FDA Center for Devices and Radiological
Health, Feb 11, 2002.
- World Health Organization. Consensus Statement on Dental
Amalgam. Mjor IA, Pakhomov GN. Dental Amalgam and Alternative
Direct Restorative Materials. Geneva: World Health Organization,
- Consumers for Dental Choice: Goals and results. Guidestar
Web site, accessed April 24, 2004.
for Dental Choice. Swankin & Turner Web site, accessed
April 27, 2004.
- Dental Choice Support Fund: Mission and programs. Guidestar
Web site, accessed April 24, 2004.
- Berry J. Two
more amalgam cases dismissed. ADA News, March 15, 2004, pp
Kids against Pollution; Dental Amalgam Mercury Syndrome, Inc.;
American Academy of Biological Dentistry; Debra Seltenreich et
al. v American Dental Association; California Dental Association;
and Does 1 through 2000, inclusive. San Francisco Superior Court
#322109, filed June 12, 2001.
Kids against Pollution et al. v. California Dental Association.
Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District,
Division Three, case #A098396, filed May 21, 2003.
for defamation. American Dental Association v. Shawn Khorrami.
U.S. District Court, Central District of California Civil Case
No. 02-3853, filed May 14, 2002.
denying defendant's motion to dismiss. American Dental Association
v. Shawn Khorrami. U.S. District Court, Central District of California
Civil Case No. 02-3853, filed January 26, 2004.