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Published: 18th June 2015
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Dental labs hired to custom-make crowns for dentists’ patients have been outsourcing work to China to save money.
Some crowns made in China have been found to have levels of lead high enough to cause lead poisoning.
Dental labs are not required to inform dentists or patients that their crown was made in a foreign country or even by a third party based in the U.S.
There have been at least four known cases of lead poisoning from crowns made in China.
The American Dental Association did research on the matter and determined that there should be no cause for safety concerns about lead in dental fixtures and porcelain. However, there are serious questions about the reliability of their research methods. For example, instead of using normal standards to test for lead, they created their own new testing protocol just for this study.
Was Your Crown Made in a Foreign Country without Your Knowledge?

The last time you went to your dentist for a crown, she probably didn’t mention whether your crown had been made in China.

If you’ve ever had a crown put in, you know that it has to be custom made at a dental lab. And you also know that having a crown made is not exactly cheap.

To save on the costs, many dental labs in the U.S. have started outsourcing to China. In almost no case does the dentist inform the patient of this fact. To be fair, the dentist may not know. There is no law stating that dental labs must notify dentists if they outsource work to a foreign country (or even to a third-party dental lab inside of the U.S.).


Lead Poisoning from Dental Work

Patients are concerned that Chinese dental labs do not have adequate oversight to ensure that their products are free of toxins. Dental fixtures made in China were responsible for four cases of lead poisoning in the US as of 2008. When the patients’ dental crowns were tested for toxic metals, some were found to contain 210 times the acceptable limit.[1]

It’s estimated that 20% of US-based dental laboratories outsource work to China.[2] After a woman in Ohio got lead poisoning from her Chinese-made crown, random tests showed many dental fixtures from China had toxic levels of lead.

In an interview with a Georgia newspaper reporter, the owner of a local dental lab said:

“It costs $20 to $30 to make a crown in China. The gold alone is going to cost more than that, so there’s no way they could be using quality materials.”1


The American Dental Association Claims there is No Safety Hazard

In response to these concerns, the American Dental Association tested over 100 crowns and porcelain powders obtained from U.S.-based dental labs.[3] Lead is normally used in the porcelain making process. The ADA found that none of the dental crowns or powders they tested had dangerous levels of lead. Furthermore, they added lead to all the test items and found that even if they had had high levels of lead, the lead would not escape the mixture.[4]


Is the ADA’s Research Reliable?

The ADA’s press release on the results of their study raise questions about how reliable their findings really are.

They obtained all crowns and porcelain powders soon after the media publicized the fact that some crowns were being made in China and contained lead. It’s likely that many dental labs that had previously used lead in their products had been “scared straight” in the wake of the publicity.
They purchased the items they tested from “domestic and foreign dental laboratories.” They do not specify how many were foreign. They also do not specify which foreign countries the test items came from. The owners of dental labs likely follow news in their industry- especially when that news is about them. They knew that the ADA was investigating this issue, so lab owners were probably not surprised when they received orders from Gaithersburg, Maryland (where the ADA is located). It’s very likely that lab owners went out of their way to ensure the crowns and powders sent to the ADA were free of toxic metals.
Instead of using standard protocol to test for lead, the ADA states that it used “a new research protocol to measure lead concentration that was developed specifically for this research” by the ADA’s research center.
All of the porcelain powders used in testing were types that are FDA approved.
News Reporters Find Cause for Concern

The ADA’s findings are in stark contrast to the test results obtained by the Ohio news report that ordered and tested eight dental crowns before breaking the story. They found dangerous levels of lead in at least one of the eight. You can see the news story details here:

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