Medical and Dental Associations: Professional, Commercial and Trade, or Both?
Ethical and Legal Questions
1. Is it appropriate for professional medical and dental associations to hold patents on products?
2. Should the licensing, teaching and practice of medicine and dentistry be separate from their trade and commercial interests?
3. What is the appropriate regulatory stance? What happens when conflicts of interest arise?
The American Medical Association (AMA) is concerned with the licensing, teaching, and practice of medicine. It does not hold patents on specific products.
The American Dental Association (ADA) is concerned with the licensing, teaching and practice of dentistry, and also with the trade and commercial aspects of dentistry. It was founded in 1859 to promote the use of an inexpensive restorative material at the time, dental amalgam, first introduced in the United States in the early 1830s. There have been improvements in its formulation over the years.
The ADA has been assigned 83 patents during the period of online records at the US Patent Office, 1976 to the present. Patents from 1790 through 1975 are searchable only by Issue Date, Patent Number, and Current US Classification.
The ADA’s most recent patent on dental amalgam, “Method for eliminating gamma.sub.2 phase from dental amalgam and improved dental amalgam composition” was granted in 1977, amended in 1978, and expired in the mid-1990s. The ADA’s latest patent, granted February 25, 2014, is, “A method and apparatus for measuring the polishability of a solid material such as a dental restorative material.”
Trends in Patents on Dental Amalgam
There have been 42 patents filed with dental amalgam in the title during the period of online records at the US Patent Office, 1976 to the present. Patents from 1790 through 1975 are searchable only by Issue Date, Patent Number, and Current US Classification. Recent patents note a record of an early one filed, “Improvement in Dental Amalgams,” in 1874 by Stephen Southworth of Niagara Falls, NY.
In addition to the ADA 1977 and 1978 patents noted above, there have been additional ones granted. Of note, Japanese researchers were granted a patent in 1987, “Dental amalgam alloys containing selenium,” to counteract, “the cytotoxicity resulting from mercury eluting from the amalgam filler.”
Since 2003, the only patents that have been granted have been related to the mitigation of harm from dental amalgam to water, air, crops, fish, etc.: “Dental amalgam separator,” “Low-cost magnetically aided apparatus for separating dental amalgam from waste water,” and “System and method for reducing environmental crematorial release of mercury from mercury-containing dental amalgam, in which teeth are encapsulated to reduce mercury vapor as crematoria have weak emissions controls.