It is a wide spread misconception that the World Health Organization, WHO, has declared mercury fillings safe. They have not.
The source of this misinformation seems to be a policy statement made by the FDI World Dental Federation with the title WHO Consensus Statement on Dental Amalgam.
This policy statement has incorrectly and extensively been used by dental organizations to convince politicians and other decision makers that the WHO has declared mercury fillings safe.
In March 1997 the WHO Oral Health section, the dentists within WHO, gathered a number of external experts to a consultation on the matter. It is pointed out in the report that the statements made by the experts in their written contributions are solely the responsibility of the authors. Furthermore the subtitle of the resulting report is WHO Consultation on Dental Amalgam and its Alternatives, Geneva, 3-7 March 1997 indicating that this is not a decision taken by the WHO. (Mjör IA, Pakhomov GN . Dental Amalgam and Alternative Direct Restorative Material. Oral Health Division of Noncommunicable Diseases World Health Organization. Geneva 1997.)
The report says:
"Safety of dental amalgam
Dental amalgam restorations are considered safe, but components of amalgam and other dental restorative materials may, in rare instances, cause local side-effects or allergic reactions. The small amount of mercury released from amalgam restorations, especially during placement and removal, has not been shown to cause any other adverse health effects. Because of concerns over adverse effects of mercury, some patients with or without symptoms, may request the removal of their amalgam restorations. While there has been a number of case studies and informal reports, no controlled studies have been published demonstrating systemic adverse effects from amalgam restorations. At present, there is no scientific evidence showing that general symptoms are relieved by the removal of amalgam restorations. Therefore, after a comprehensive oral examination and appropriate dental treatment, these patients should be considered for referral to other health care professionals for diagnosis and treatment if symptoms persist."
It is also interesting to note that this report is not issued to the public; in fact it may not even be quoted without the written consent of the WHO. Extraordinary measures have been taken to keep this out of the public eye. Had the Oral Health Division been totally open with the report it had been obvious to all that this is not a statement by the World Health Organization and misinformation had not been possible. The meeting was partly sponsored by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research in the US.
The report was unanimously approved by the participants of the consultation. A majority of the participants were dentists and no experts in mercury toxicology were present as far as I can see. The consultation was chaired by a member of FDI World Dental Federation, one of the leading dental researchers Prof. Ivar A. Mjör.
What has the WHO legal department to say about this? In the Heavy Metal Bulletin Legal Officer Ewa Carlsson Hoppergher from the WHO says (Heavy Metal Bulletin, HMB, No. 2 1997, page 3):
"Expert groups, whatever the form, are usually set up as ad hoc groups, and what they have in common is that they are only set up in order to provide advice to the WHO. This means that any statements or recommendations made by the group or individual experts are not in any way binding for WHO, or for any other body for that matter, they are only made as advice to WHO. Also, WHO is in no way responsible for the advice provided by the experts."
The WHO has NOT declared mercury fillings safe.
Now, a number of years later, the WHO Oral Health Division is involved in yet another controversial consultation involving mercury fillings: "Future Use of Materials for Dental Restoration". It was held on 16th to 17th November 2009 together with United Nations Environmental Program, UNEP. The controversy does not involve the consultation as such but the report produced by the WHO Oral Health Division. A preliminary version resulted in very serious objections from a number of the participants in the consultation. The WHO Oral Health Division was forced to withdraw it on the grounds that it contained misleading and incorrect statements and a correct report has not yet emerged two years after the consultation. - Video below of Charlie Brown from Consumers for Dental Choice explaining the current scandal at the WHO's Oral Health Division involving the controversial report: "Future Use of Materials for Dental Restoration".