Dental Fillings Targeted in Multiple Lawsuits

The American Dental Association and various state dental organizations find themselves squarely in the path of a swelling wave of litigation over tooth fillings.

The ADA, the largest and oldest dental organization in the nation, has been named in a variety of individual and class-action lawsuits in at least four states, charged with numerous transgressions including alleged fraud and negligence.

At issue is the silver colored amalgam that’s filled cavities in the mouths of millions of Americans and has been used for more than 150 years. Amalgam contains a number of metals including silver, copper, tin, zinc and mercury, the component that’s become the focal point of the debate.

Mercury is toxic and can cause a variety of neurological and other health problems in large doses.

Lawsuits filed in California and Georgia claim amalgam used in the fillings of mothers contributed to autism in their children, and a Maryland class action suit alleges misrepresentation for references to the fillings as ‘silver,’ when mercury comprises as much as 50 percent of some dental amalgam.

Waging War on Dental Amalgam
Leading the charge against the use of amalgam is Shawn Khorrami, a Los Angeles-area lawyer who’s filed various suits against the ADA, some of its state chapters, and other organizations and companies.

Khorrami said many of his lawsuits have targeted the ADA and its affiliates because “the associations have a long standing practice of dealing with amalgam that’s been unreasonably deceptive.”

“We are trying to get rid of mercury,” said Khorrami. “This is the only industry that advocates the use of mercury.”

On his law firm’s Internet site, Khorrami notes, “Mercury is universally recognized as an extremely dangerous toxin. The lawsuits allege that one filling contains 750 milligrams of mercury, enough to contaminate a small lake. Mercury amalgam is dangerous before it goes into the mouth, and it is a hazardous material when it comes out.”

While that amount of mercury in a single filling may be accurate based on the size of a cavity, it does not necessarily constitute the amount of mercury absorbed by the body at a rate that might raise concerns among major health organizations and regulatory agencies.

Khorrami also draws aim on the ADA specifically, saying it’s “out of the medical mainstream in claiming that mercury is safe for use in human beings while the rest of the medical world is eliminating the use of mercury in all other circumstances.”

“The use of this stuff for a hundred and fifty years – tell me another situation where we’re using pre-Civil War medicine,” said Khorrami.

Variations on amalgam are thought to have been used in seventh century China with more contemporary applications dating back to the early 19th century.

Amalgam has long been promoted by the ADA as an effective and affordable way of filling cavities, less expensive than other fillings like porcelain resin or gold. The Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization have also deemed amalgam safe for use by dentists.

ADA Punches Back
Unlike earlier product liability lawsuits against the tobacco industry and firearm manufacturers, the ADA is not letting the pending legal action go unanswered. The group has filed its own lawsuit against Khorrami, accusing him of defamation.

The ADA argues Khorrami is using the amalgam issue to launch a “campaign of lies and distortions,” to further promote his law practice.

“The statements that he makes are completely false in that he is aware of the scientific evidence,” said Peter Sfikas, chief counsel for the ADA. “The Food and Drug Administration reaffirmed, as late as February of this year, there is no valid scientific evidence that has ever shown that amalgams cause harm to patients with dental restorations.”

While rhetoric is often included in the legal arguments made in court, Sfikas said the ADA’s complaint revolves not around the legal arguments but the promotional statements made by Khorrami.

“He’s not doing that in a court of law, he’s doing it on his own website for the purpose of obtaining parties to file suit,” Sfikas said.

Khorrami said the ADA lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles May 14, will not dissuade him from additional, future actions, adding, “This has nothing to do with filing actions elsewhere.”

As for the ADA’s efforts to fight Khorrami and his growing litigation, the lawyer said he had not been served with the dental group’s suit as of late last week. “If you get up and stand up and say amalgam is bad, the ADA takes it very personally,” said Khorrami. “This is part of the intimidation tactics of the ADA.”

In answering Khorrami’s accusations of intimidation, Sfikas said, “The ADA does not intimidate. The ADA has no tactics. The ADA is a scientifically-oriented professional association.”

Instead, Sfikas said the ADA is simply standing up for itself. “The reckless statements of Mr. Khorrami, which are also false statements, injure the reputation of a scientifically based organization.”

According to Sfikas, the ADA has long acknowledged the presence of mercury in silver colored fillings. He said the organization “has certainly made it very clear in its literature that amalgam fillings contain mercury.”

For the time being, none of the nearly two-dozen lawsuits naming the ADA has been scheduled for a hearing in any court, Sfikas said. He added that the ADA hopes to have the cases moved from various state courts into the federal court system.

Sfikas expects science to loom large in determining which party will ultimately prevail in the amalgam debate.

Written by Scott Hogenson, Executive Editor of CNSNews.com and published on DrKelley.info, May 29, 2002. Embedded links may no longer be active (Ed. 12.30.10)

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