Dentists could struggle to carry out fillings if a proposed EU ban on mercury gets the go-ahead tomorrow.

The European Parliament is set to ban dental amalgam – used in common silver fillings – amid fears over its toxicity.

Dental leaders have warned the move would be disastrous for the UK, which relies on the ‘safe and effective’ treatment for millions of fillings every year.

They say the ban on use, manufacturing and export from January 2025 would disrupt supplies and drive-up costs among NHS and private dentists.

Eddie Crouch, chairman, said: ‘Since NHS dentistry was born, amalgam has been the go-to material in the fight against decay.

The European Parliament is set to ban dental amalgam - used in common silver fillings - amid fears over its toxicity

The European Parliament is set to ban dental amalgam – used in common silver fillings – amid fears over its toxicity

Only 43 per cent of over-18s were seen by a dentist in the 24 months to June 2023, compared to more than half in the same period before the pandemic struck

Only 43 per cent of over-18s were seen by a dentist in the 24 months to June 2023, compared to more than half in the same period before the pandemic struck

‘Nothing competes on durability, ease of placement or cost-effectiveness.

‘If this vote passes and government doesn’t step up the impact will be felt in practices UK-wide, and among the millions already struggling to access care.’

Debate has raged for decades as more than half of amalgam fillings are made up of mercury, which is more poisonous than lead.

It is mixed with silver, copper and tin, forming a highly durable combination to lock in the mercury.

But it is now accepted that mercury vapour escapes and small amounts are passed into the bloodstream and organs, particularly when put in or removed.

How much does NHS dentistry cost?

There are 3 NHS charge bands:

Band 1: £25.80

Covers an examination, diagnosis and advice. If necessary, it also includes X-rays, a scale and polish, and planning for further treatment.

Band 2: £70.70

Covers all treatment included in Band 1, plus additional treatment, such as fillings, root canal treatment and removing teeth (extractions).

Band 3: £306.80

Covers all treatment included in Bands 1 and 2, plus more complex procedures, such as crowns, dentures and bridges.

For comparison, check-ups can cost between £20 and £120 at private dentists, according to Which?.

Dentures and bridges can also cost up to £2,520, the consumer watchdog says.

Some campaigners suggest the fillings are highly toxic, linking their use to certain neurological or auto-immune disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

But UK health officials maintain there is no evidence that exposure to mercury from amalgam fillings has any harmful effects on health.

In 2018, an EU directive stopped silver fillings in baby teeth and children under the age of 15, unless dentists felt it necessary. They are also not given to pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Its latest move is environmentally driven, in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal, the 2020 EU Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability and the 2021 EU Zero Pollutant Action Plan.

Any mercury released into the environment can re-enter the food chain with residues having been found in soils, fish and seafood.

High mercury exposure can damage the brain, lungs, kidneys and the human immune system.

If passed, it will see EU countries – and Northern Ireland under post-Brexit arrangements – join the likes of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany, in stopping use.

While there are longstanding plans to phase out use in the UK, experts fear an abrupt stop would represent a multi-million-pound blow to already struggling services, destabilising NHS dentistry.

With patients already facing lengthy waits for NHS appointments, the drive towards white fillings would make this worse, taking longer to apply and often requiring repeat placements.

It comes just weeks after a Nuffield Trust report warned NHS dentistry has ‘gone for good’ and must be rationed for those most in need.

Describing it as at the most perilous point in its 75-history, it said a radical overhaul was needed including means-testing patients and limiting provisions to emergency treatment and check-ups.

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