Dental implants are traceable to early Egyptians and to ancient Central and South American cultures. But the modern versions from China are in the products liability news again. A few months back, there were media reports about a dental patient in Ohio who claimed to have lead contamination in her dental restoration. The affected patient, a senior citizen, received a three-unit dental bridge from a dentist in Ohio. Reportedly, the prescription was sent to an offshore dental laboratory and made in China. A lab analysis apparently showed levels of lead in the porcelain on the restoration.

When the story broke in February, the American Dental Association notified the CDC and the FDA, and asked the agencies to address any safety concerns. (The not-for-profit ADA is the nation’s largest dental association, representing more than 156,000 dentist members.)  The FDA regulates the materials used to make dental crowns and bridges, and the CDC has extensive information and expertise in the area of lead exposure.

According to the CDC’s response, many consumer products contain lead in trace amounts; federal regulations limit the amount of lead in consumer products based on the way the body absorbs lead, the potential hazard, and the lead level product manufacturers can achieve using good manufacturing practices. According to the CDC, trace amounts of lead at a level of 200 ppm, such as the amount the Ohio dentist reportedly found in dental crowns, are extremely unlikely to cause adverse health effects. The CDC also states that given the current information at hand, they do not recommend that individuals defer needed dental treatment or have existing dental crowns, bridges or other prostheses removed.

However, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has now called on the Food and Drug Administration to revisit the issue. In a letter to FDA, Brown cites reports of tainted implants with higher levels of lead than that ceiling. He is requesting that FDA delineate the actions it is taking to assess the prevalence, source, and impact of lead-containing dental implants in the United States. And address:

• What standards exist for domestic and international dental products and the dental labs that produce them?
• What is the estimated volume of China-produced dental implants in the country today, and what is the annual volume of such products?
• What tracking mechanisms are in place to prepare for potential contamination by tainted dental implants?
• What inspection mechanisms are in place to ensure the safety of dental implants?
• What are the risks posed by dental implants with lead levels above those that the CDC has determined are safe?

Meanwhile, the ADA is testing both foreign- and domestic-made dental crowns to determine:
• The degree to which lead may be present;
• Where the lead may be located (i.e., in the metal alloy, the porcelain, etc.); and
• How much, if any, lead may be released from dental crowns.