Twinbirth: Amalgam and the ADA

Dentistry split off as a profession separate from medicine from 1780 to 1800 in the United States. There were two types of "dentists" at this time. There were medical doctors trained to practice both medicine and dentistry, called medical-dentists. Then there were craftsmen-dentists. The craftsmen-dentists were those who were engaged in some other trade such as barbering, wood or metal carvers, blacksmiths....etc.

Before 1840, there were no dental schools, no dental licensing, no national dental organizations and no dental board exams. Dentists were either self-taught by trial and error or were apprenticed under a practicing medical-dentist. In the 1830's anybody could be a dentist. All one had to do was to hang a sign up and he was an instant dentist. That's when a bitter controversy between craftsmen-dentists and medical-dentists over mercury amalgams began in what continues to be known as the Amalgam War.

Mercury was clearly known to be poisonous to the medical-dentist of the 1830's. Craftsmen-dentists were not concerned with the medical consequences of placing mercury into the clients' teeth. They thought amalgam was easy to use and filled the cavities in their teeth quickly with no pain.

The medical-dentists believed that something had to be done about the deteriorating concern and increasing ignorance for the patients' medical welfare as evidenced by the growing use of amalgam. So, the medical-dentist created the world's first dental school in 1840 and the first national dental organization in order to raise the standards of dental education and care.

The world's first national dental organization, the American Society of Dental Surgeons (ASDS) was formed in 1840. A resolution passed by the ASDS in 1843 stated that the use of amalgam was considered to be malpractice. Not all the ASDS members were happy about the ban against amalgam use. Rather than lose patients, more and more ASDS members decided to use amalgam.

This began the Amalgam War. Individual medical ethics were cut down by business pressures to survive. Dentists using mercury were meeting with one another and wanted to form their own organization. This led to the formation of the American Dental Association (ADA) in 1859.

The ADA is a non-governmental professional membership organization. It disseminates information to its members and the public, holds conventions, accepts and certifies dental products and devices and lobbies local, state and federal government officials in order to promote its specific positions.

The ADA may owe all that it has become to the use of mercury amalgam. Without mercury-amalgam, the ADA may have never been founded.