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"Nine Strikes and You're Out"

The California Dental Board, the American Dental Association and the 'M' Word


The California Dental Board has demonstrated an abject lack of interest in its statutory mission of protecting consumers. For nine years, the Board has failed to comply with the Watson law requiring a "Fact Sheet" listing the risks of dental materials (including Mercury amalgam):

1992: A law written by then-State Senator (now Congresswoman) Diane Watson requires the Dental Board to list the "risks" as well as the "efficacies" of dental materials. In a letter of explanation written by the Congresswoman to the Board on June 12, 2001, she explained that her intent was to focus on the most controversial filling -- amalgam -- so that consumers (especially children and pregnant women) would know (1) that they are not "silver" but mainly Mercury and (2) that they pose real risks because of that Mercury content.

1993: The Board writes a "Fact Sheet" -- based on a proposal by a single Board member -- without doing any research whatsoever. The sheet so glosses over the risks of Mercury amalgam that a Department of Consumer Affairs memorandum labels it "probably misleading."

1993-1999: With no one in place to hold the Boardís feet to the fire, the Board continues to ignore the Watson law.

1999: At a Board meeting in San Francisco, then-Board president Christoffersen proclaims that no dentist may practice Mercury-free dentistry. His obvious misstatement of California law (which permits a dentist to choose his or her materials) and pandering to the position of the American Dental Association sets off a firestorm, and leads to a petition by Consumers for Dental Choice that lays out a course of action for the Board to take.

1999, contínued: Due to insistence of the Davis Administration that the Board follow the law, the Board meets and adopts most of the petition, including resolutions repudiating the Christoffersen statement, urging dentists to make Prop. 65 listings, and agreeing to hire a consultant (for a fee of $25,000) to re-write the Fact Sheet.

1999, contíd. The Los Angeles Times publishes a Page 1 story, "A Debate on Mercury in Fillings" (10/25/99) and a major story on the clash between the Dental Board and anti-Mercury activists (12/4/99).

2000: The Board (to its credit) publishes a newsletter stating that the Mercury in amalgam has "reproductive toxicity," and promising a revised Fact Sheet.

Dec. 2000: Sunset hearings. The Dental Board promises the Fact Sheet promptly. Senator Figueroa acts to expand upon the Watson law so that the Fact Sheet will be presented to consumers, not just to dentists (SB134).

2001: At a legislative hearing, the Board promises to complete the Fact Sheet by the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2001).

May 2001: The Fact Sheet bogs down. The proposal, first written by the consultant then re-written after input from Board staff and a Board member liaison, totally fails to follow the law or the bid specifications on stating the risks of Mercury amalgam. At a meeting May 10 in San Diego, the Board directs the consultant to re-write the Fact Sheet. The Board promises a special meeting before the end of June.

June 2001: The Board schedules a special meeting for June 14 in Los Angeles to review and approve the Fact Sheet. Meanwhile, a massive organizing effort by Consumers for Dental Choice is underway, a fact conveyed to Board members by the groupís counsel, Charles Brown, who meets with two Board members and talks by telephone with others, including president Neacy.

June 12: Abruptly, president Neacy cancels the Board meeting for "lack of a quorum." The Board provides no details on what changed in membersí schedules. Nor does the Board explain why it did not go forward with a meeting without a quorum, which it could have done. The cancellation notice states that the Board would meet later in June.

June 12, contíd: The Dental Board consultant fails to meet the deadline for submitting a revised Fact Sheet.

June 14: Department of Consumer Affairs Deputy Director Lynn Morris meets with consumers who show up for the cancelled Dental Board meeting to hear their concerns. No Board members show up. Instead, the Board sends a lower-level staffer to read a statement; he refuses to give a copy of the statement to the press and immediately walks out.

June 14, contínued: Breaking two promises at once, the Board notices its next meeting for July 19 -- even though (1) the Board promised Senator Figueroa to complete the work by June 30, and (2) the Board notice two days earlier promised a June meeting. The Board announces that its hearing will be held at 8:00 a.m. at a hotel near the San Francisco Airport. Virtually no one can get to a hotel at SFO by 8:00 in the morning (even from the East Bay, to say nothing of Southern California or the Central Valley) without spending the money both to fly in the night before and to stay at an expensive hotel. Aware of the huge public uproar against hiding the risks of Mercury fillings, the Board plainly intends to have a "lobbyist-only" event.

June 18: Anita Vazquez Tibau, Southern California coordinator for Consumers for Dental Choice, delivers a letter to Board president Neacy inquiring as to: (1) who ducked out of the quorum call, and should those Board members be removed for dereliction of duty; and (2) where is the consultantís report, which cost the taxpayers $25,000; and (3) why is the Board meeting on the Fact Sheet scheduled as a lobbyist-only event?

June 19: Dr. Neacy, oblivious to her duties as a public official and acting more like a corporate CEO, castigates Ms. Vazquez Tibau for coming to her office-even though Dr. Neacy refused to attend a public meeting the week before that she herself had scheduled.