Dental Mercury

In the process of restoring teeth with so-called "silver" fillings — which are actually 50% mercury — dentists use approximately 40 metric tons of mercury each year, most of which is eventually released into the environment.

In 2002, Health Care Without Harm and the Mercury Policy Project released a report about the environmental impacts of the dental industry's use of mercury. Among other significant findings, the report reveals that dentists are now the third largest users of mercury in the U.S. and the single largest polluters of mercury to the nation's wastewater treatment plants.

Fortunately, alternative filling materials are available, and there are cost-effective devices to properly manage dental mercury waste. Yet only a small percentage of dentists nationwide are taking steps to collect and recycle mercury waste, including installing amalgam separation filters necessary to reduce mercury discharges.

Substituting mercury with alternative materials for dental fillings has less negative impact on human health and the environment, according to a report by the Health Care Research Collaborative. The Research Collaborative released “Mercury in Dental Amalgam and Resin-Based Alternatives: A Comparative Health Risk Evaluation,” which compares the health and environmental impacts of mercury dental amalgam with those of the alternatives currently available in the United States.

The report found that the known impacts of mercury on human health and the global environment outweigh the known impacts of resin composites and glass ionomer fillings. The report also found that health systems in several countries have successfully substituted mercury with these alternatives with little or no negative impacts on oral health.

Based on this evidence, the report recommends “the ultimate goal of a phase-out of virtually all usage of dental mercury,” with allowance for exceptions due to clinical necessity, while at the same time suggesting that “dental personnel handling these [composite] materials should take proper exposure control measures due the demonstrated genotoxicity and allergenicity of some of these compounds.”

Read the Full Report.