Senior U.S. health officials have squelched a Food and Drug Administration proposal that for the first time would have curbed dentists’ use of mercury – one of the planet’s nastiest toxins because it attacks the central nervous system – in treating Americans’ decayed teeth.

The proposal, approved by top FDA officials in late 2011 and kept secret since, would have told dentists they should not use mercury fillings in cavities in pregnant women, nursing moms, children under 6 and people with mercury allergies, kidney diseases or neurological problems.

It also urged dentists to avoid using fillings that contain mercury compounds in any patient, where possible.

The proposal and its secret rejection, after a cost-benefit analysis by officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, have put the Obama administration in the awkward position of concealing for over three years a safety communication potentially affecting millions of Americans.

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