Gillette physician gives key testimony

Star-Tribune staff writer

A Gillette physician's testimony in Washington D.C. served as a key element in rejecting a draft from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that suggested mercury fillings were safe.

Rebecca Painter, a general physician in Gillette, has worked with patients for over 13 years who exhibit symptoms of mercury poisoning because they received amalgam, or mercury, fillings. She said she has treated more than 80 patients, whom she claims amalgam fillings have affected.

She went to Washington D.C., to educate the public and the FDA on the dangers of amalgam fillings and to ultimately get them banned from dentists' offices.

"We had a wonderful opportunity to present testimony to two different advisory panels to the FDA," said Painter, who specializes in diagnosing toxic materials in the body. "They got a chance to hear the public. We have known for 150 years that mercury is toxic."

The two panels voted Thursday to reject the draft report from the FDA that concluded amalgam fillings containing mercury were safe. Charlie Brown of the Consumers for Dental Choice said the decision was made largely because of Painter's testimony.

"I know it's a long way from Wyoming," Brown said. "But she came here on a mission and mission accomplished."

However, the panels did not deem the use of these fillings unsafe. They only found that more examination into the safety of amalgam fillings was needed.

The American Dental Association welcomed the additional review of dental amalgam, but stated in a press release that the overwhelming scientific evidence supports the safety of this type of filling that has been used for generations.

These fillings are about 50 percent mercury combined with silver, copper and tin. Millions of amalgam fillings are used every year, but Painter said they have already begun to taper off because the public is becoming more aware of the dangers associated with mercury.

"America is already behind getting rid of mercury exposure," Painter said. "We are protecting fish and there are EPA standards for how much mercury can be let into the air. Governors across the country even have mercury awareness days."

Brown said the FDA has been unwilling to discuss the mercury in dental fillings until this week. The last time there was a hearing on the mercury-laden fillings was in 1993.

During her time in the nation's capital, Painter also met with Wyoming U.S. Sen. Michael Enzi, also from Gillette, to discuss her concerns with using fillings that contain mercury.

Immediately, Brown said his group wants to ban the use of amalgam fillings for pregnant women and children. In the future, they hope to have them banned entirely.

"There are catastrophic effects for some people," Brown said. "It's a poison. If we don't know, why risk it."