First international dental mercury conference held in Rio de Janeiro

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First international dental mercury conference held in Rio de Janeiro


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At the event, an international panel discussed the toxicological aspects of mercury on human health and the environment. (Photograph: Anita Vazquez Tibau)

Thu. 4. January 2018


The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and the Public Health and Environmental Program of the Sergio Arouca National School of Public Health (ENSP/FIOCRUZ) along with the Brasil Chapter of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) jointly sponsored, for the first time, an international conference on 9 and 10 November under the theme “The toxicological aspects of mercury on human health and the environment”.

This historic two-day event was the first time that the ENSP/FIOCRUZ and a non-government organisation had ever officially partnered for a formal symposium. The discussions at the event addressed many of the aspects of mercury. Opening the event was Dr Liliane Teixeira, the event’s coordinator (ENSP/FIOCRUZ), followed by Dr Martha Faissol, (IAOMT), Hermano Castro, Director of ENSP/FIOCRUZ, and Vice-President, Marco Menezes (ENSP/FIOCRUZ). Dr Eliana Napoleao Cozendey da Silva (ENSP/FIOCRUZ) was responsible for organising this event on behalf of ENSP and FIOCRUZ.

Diego Periera, an environmental analyst for the Ministry of the Environment in Brasil, discussed Brasil and the ratification and implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Professor Emeritus at the University of Brasilia, Dr Jose Dorea, examined mercury exposure and human health in the Brazilian Amazon saying that, “The conference was amazing, it was very objective, because it was focused on health, the overall picture of mercury was balanced and well addressed throughout the entire meeting. This was one of the highest quality, densest short meetings that I have ever participated in. We all have an interest in mercury in any form and all of the meetings are important, but this one was especially important, because Brasil has more dentists than the EU and US combined. When you can come to a country that has that many professionals and can focus on one thing, in this case mercury in the dental sector, it is very important.”

Following Dorea was Dr Boyd Haley, Professor Emeritus at the University of the Kentucky. Haley spoke about the toxicological aspects of mercury on human health and possible treatments. Dr Julio Wasserman, professor at the Fluminense Federal University in Rio de Janeiro, led the morning round table discussions.

Dr David Kennedy, old president of IAOMT U.S. division, began the first afternoon discussing mercury with regards to infertility and genetic susceptibility. Dr Paulo Barrocas then gave an overview of mercury contamination in the Amazon basin with an emphasis on traditional tribes. Dr Patricia Dias, a doctor with occupational safety experience, explained the various facets of worker safety and the current laws surrounding occupational mercury exposure in Brazil. The afternoon round table was chaired by Dr Paulo Barrocas (ENSP/FIOCRUZ) and was concluded with another robust session of questions and answers between the speakers and the attendees.

On day two, Dr David Warwick from IAOMT Canada/U.S. gave a powerful overview of mercury pathways, its impact on the “Circle of life” and the true cost of dental amalgam fillings. His lecture covered how dental mercury is illegally making its way into artisanal small-scale gold mining, which is now the largest polluter of mercury globally. His presentation was followed by a presentation by Thais Cavendish, the General Coordination and Surveillance in Environmental Health at the Brasil Ministry of Health. She discussed the health surveillance of populations that are exposed to mercury in Brasil. The final presenter of the morning was Dr Rodrigo Richard da Silveira, a professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brasil, whose topic was “Dental Amalgam—yes or no?”

A round table discussion followed the morning session.

The second afternoon started with a presentation by Michael Darcy, a consultant on regulations for wastewater treatment problems created by the dental sector in the U.S. and Canada. He discussed the different types of mercury amalgam separators on the market and the importance of proper installation and maintenance. Dr Raimondo Pische, from the International Academy of Biological Dentistry in Italy, presented a snapshot of biological dentistry and discussed how the European Union is moving away from the use of mercury in the dental sector. The final speaker was Dr Blanche Grube, old president of the International Academy of Biological Dentistry and Medicine and a fellow of the IAOMT. Grube addressed the critical importance of safety protocols for mercury removal, including protection procedures for patients, dentists and staff.

Wasserman again chaired the final round table, which was followed by closing remarks by Napoleao Cozendey da Silva. Attendees were informed that eight countries had participated in the congress and final acknowledgments were made in conclusion of the event.

The implications of a mercury-free dental sector in Brasil, as the fifth largest country in the world, will have an enormous global impact. As of 2009, there were 191 institutions of higher education in Brazil granting degrees in dentistry (137 private [71.7 per cent] and fifty-four public [28.3 per cent]), with a total of 17,157 student positions offered annually. These schools graduate around 10,000 professionals per year—one of the highest rates in the world. More and more women are also entering the profession each year. In fact, in 2009, 75 per cent of first-year dental students were female and 55 per cent of total dental professionals in that year were women. Recent scientific papers have shown that women’s exposure to mercury in the dental sector can have very serious health consequences, particularly in women of child-bearing age and women who are pregnant.

This first joint conference received praise from the attendees, as well as those who participated on the panel of experts. There was a tremendous amount of science presented on the toxicological impact of mercury, not only as a global pollutant, but also in relation to the serious health impact that it has, especially on vulnerable sub-populations. This meeting was critical in assessing the health and environmental impact created by the specific use of dental mercury. With countries such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden proving that a ban on dental mercury is possible, as recommended at the first Conference of the Parties that was titled “Let’s make dental mercury history!”

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