The widespread use of mercury in dentistry is fast becoming a major health concern across the world, especially in the densely-populated and less-educated third world countries.
This is a matter of concern because very few people – including patients, policymakers and dentists – can fathom the danger that long-term exposure to mercury can pose on public health in general.
The Asian countries, who are in particular danger of bearing the health brunt in the long-term, have made some progress in phasing down the use of mercury in dental amalgams, but governments need to be more active, environmentalists and experts said at a forum in Thailand on Tuesday.
The workshop on "Successful Strategies to Phase down Amalgam Use towards Mercury-Free Dentistry" was jointly organised by UNEP and World Alliance for Mercury-free Dentistry in collaboration with ESDO and Asia Center for Environment Health at UN Conference Centre in Bangkok.
A UN official said there was resistance around this issue and governments had to take the lead in reducing the use of mercury.
"Around 25% of the global population are living in Asia, so this region is very much important as it is a major stakeholder. So to achieve the goal, the Asian governments should come forward," said the UN official.
The international bureaucrat pointed out that public awareness about the danger of mercury and the involvement of dentistry professionals in it are the two most essential sectors.
Strengthening legislation and regulation is also very important to achieve the goal.
Participants from various Asian countries, including government representatives and NGO representatives, took part in the two-day programme where every country presented a report on their current situation.
"Many of the countries in Asia have moved forward dramatically but they still have a long way to go in order to phase down mercury from the dentistry," said Charles G Brown of World Alliance for Mercury-Free Dentistry.
The world-famous anti-mercury activist said the mindset of many of the Asian countries have changed.
"Now it is high time to devise the specific strategy to each of the countries for the implementation of the Minamata Convention to phase down mercury from dentistry," he said, adding that the Minamata Convention is the game changer in phasing down mercury from dentistry.
Brown also said governments can take various steps to phase down mercury by phasing down amalgam purchasing, giving preference to mercury-free alternatives and restricting amalgam use.
Henk Verbeek of UNEP Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific said, goals have been set and it is time to go for action.
"We have to promote clinically effective, affordable and environment-friendly mercury-free alternatives to achieve the goal of a mercury-free dentistry," he said in the opening session of the two-day long programme.
Tomoko Furusawa, programme specialist of the UNDP Bangkok office, said UNDP is helping the countries to undertake a Mercury Initial Assessment to determine the national requirements and needs for the ratification of the Minamata Convention and establish a national foundation to undertake future work towards the implementation of the convention.
Kakuko Nagatani-Yoshida, regional sub-programme coordinator for chemicals and waste of the UNEP Bangkok office, stressed on the safe disposal of used dental amalgam, as it is a big threat for both environmental and human health.
Shahriar Hossain of ESDO chaired the session of the workshop while Siddika Sultana of Asian Center for Environment Health spoke to the daylong programme.