May 8, 2008 — -- When Faye Lewis became concerned about her painful new bridgework, she had it checked out and received some disturbing news: Her bridge was manufactured in China and tainted with lead.
More dentists are using crowns and bridges made in China. According to the United State Customs Office, the number of dental products coming into the United States from China has doubled in the last year.
An investigation by ABC News affiliate WJLA-TV found that at least some of those dental products contain lead.
Lewis initially went to have a chipped tooth fixed, but her resulting bridgework fit so poorly and painfully, she couldn't chew her food. The 73-year-old told her dentist what she wanted to do was chew out whoever built her bridge.
According to Lewis, her dentist replied, "That will be a little hard to do because they're in China."
As a grandmother, Lewis was aware of news reports about the recall of lead-tainted toys from China. Lead accumulates in the body and can affect kidneys, eyes, heart, the immune system and cognitive function.
So Lewis sent her dental work to a lab for testing. The results showed that it did indeed contain lead.
Ricki Braswell, co-executive director of the National Association of Dental Laboratories, said there is little regulation when it comes to dental work.
"Because you have an unregulated industry, you really don't have standards," Braswell said. "You don't have standards in the domestic industry. You certainly don't have standards in the foreign industry."
Tony Prestipino, who owns Artifex dental lab in Virginia, ordered 10 crowns from three dental labs in China on behalf of WJLA.
Crowns from China sell for $30 to $50 to dentists, who then can charge up to $1,200 to patients who don't know the crowns were made in China.
A Chinese lab representative told Prestipino over the phone, "We follow this military 'don't ask, don't tell' policy."
Within five days the crowns arrived.