Consumer Health Digest #07-44

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
November 13, 2007

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

NHS officials urged to fluoridate. UK Secretary of State for Health Alan Johnson has issued a ringing endorsement to fluoridation, especially in areas with high levels of dental disease. In a recent speech, he stated:

Government must be much bolder in the field of public health to be far less trepidatious about “nanny state” accusations. I believe the public is less worried about a nanny state than a neglectful state. In recent months, we have made a number of major advances, including: going smokefree in public places, making psychological therapies available nationwide and vaccinating young women against cervical cancer. The Prime Minister and I will come forward with further measures, in the coming months. An increased focus on prevention will also be crucial in tackling health inequalities.

In some poorer communities, tooth decay is twice as high as in the most affluent areas. Taking two areas with similar population characteristics – Sandwell and Bolton Children’s tooth decay has halved in Sandwell in the last ten years. It’s stayed at the same high levels in Bolton. The difference is that since 1986 children in Sandwell have benefited from fluoridated water. I hope that more [Primary Care Trusts] and [Strategic Health Authorities] will grasp the nettle and consult on fluoridation in areas with high levels of dental disease. Although it can prove a controversial local issue, it is an essential means of tackling health inequalities. We know it works, and it delivers the greatest health benefit to the poorest people. The NHS has to bring this often neglected public health issue back to life if it is to tackle inequalities in oral health.

[Speech by the Rt Hon Alan Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Health, 5 November 2007: NHS Chief Executives Conference. UK Department of Health Web site, Nov 5, 2007]

Sargenti practitioners disciplined. Three Alabama dentists have been disciplined for "gross negligence" in connection with their use of the Sargenti root canal technique. Root canal therapy can often save a tooth when its soft inner tissues become damaged. During the treatment, these tissues are removed and the space is filled with a substitute material. Standard root canal therapy uses gutta percha, which is inert, but some dentists use a paste that contains paraformaldehyde, which can severely damage the surrounding tissues if extruded beyond the tip of a root. The paraformaldhyde-containing paste—commonly referred to as "N2"—probably works well in most cases where it is used, but when things go wrong, the results can be disastrous. N2 is not marketed as such in the United States because it is not FDA-approved. However, practitioners can obtain it from compounding pharmacies.

The Alabama board's action was triggered by a complaint from a woman who suffers from severe chronic pain caused by extrusion of N2 beyond the tooth root. The case was resolved with consent agreements under which the dentists were assessed a total of $13,500 and agreed to use a suitable consent form that explains the risks Sargenti technique if they continue to use it. The woman is also suing the trio, charging that they did not inform her of the risks and tried to conceal the nature of her injury. Dental Watch has published a detailed investigative report.

Metabolife founder pleads guilty. Michael J. Ellis, founder and former president of Metabolife, Inc., has pled guilty to federal charges of making false statements to the FDA. Metabolife's ephedra-containing diet pills triggered thousands of complaints from customers who had experienced adverse effects. Yet in 1999, while the FDA was considering prohibitions, Ellis knowingly told the FDA that the company had a "claims free history." The FDA later banned ephedra as an ingredient in dietary supplements. With Metabolife 356 as its flagship product, the company became one of the largest retailers of products marketed as dietary supplements. Ellis's indictment, the FDA ban, hundreds of personal injury lawsuits, and falling sales due to adverse publicity led the company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2005. Ellis faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January. [News release. U.S. Department of Justice, Nov 5, 2007]

Offbeat physician disciplined. Steven L. Smith, M.D., who practices in Richland, Washington, has been ordered to pay a $5,000 fine, undergo a practice evaluation, and do what the evaluators recommend. The licensing board's ruling came in response to a complaint in which he was charged with unprofessional conduct for relying on unreliable diagnostic tests and failing to provide or refer a teenage patient for appropriate management. The questionable tests included hair analysis and a provoked test for mercury toxicity. Smith's inappropriate "working diagnoses" included mold contamination, organ inflammation due to rapid detoxification, mercury toxicity, and probable Lyme disease, and a viral inflammation of the abdomen for which he prescribed intravenous hydrogen peroxide.

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This page was posted on November 14, 2007.