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Natural Awakenings Lehigh Valley

The Mercury Safe Dental Office

Jul 03, 2013 05:01PM ● By Carol Sherman DDS

The average thermometer contains half of a gram of mercury. If a thermometer breaks in our house, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a protocol which recommends taking such safety measures as having everyone, including pets, leave the area, wearing rubber gloves while cleaning the spill, ventilating the room to the outside and then contacting our local health department about how to properly dispose of the mercury-contaminated items.

Given that mercury can be toxic, these safety recommendations make sense. But what about mercury safety in the dental office? According to one study, the average American adult has 3.2 grams of mercury in their mouth. That’s almost 7 times the amount of mercury in a thermometer. Yet, there are no safety standards recommended by the EPA or any other government agency regarding how dental workers can protect patients and themselves from mercury exposure.

How is mercury dangerous?

Mercury is a neurotoxin, meaning it is poisonous to the brain and nervous system.

Elemental mercury, the kind found in thermometers and dental fillings, constantly releases vapors, which are easily inhaled. This causes neurological damage, as well as kidney and bone damage in high levels. Mercury is also particularly damaging to fetuses and young children.

Amalgam dental fillings are made up of as much as 50 percent mercury. These fillings release mercury vapors during chewing and tooth grinding, as well as during tooth brushing and drinking hot beverages. However, the highest amount of mercury released from these “silver” fillings happens immediately after they are placed, during dental cleanings and during their removal. This means that people are constantly exposed to mercury vapors while the fillings are in their mouths and then exposed to much higher levels during dental treatment.

What can be done to reduce the amount of mercury exposure during dental procedures?

Since there are no regulations regarding safe mercury removal, dental offices vary widely in the precautions they take. The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT) has done extensive research on the subject for over 30 years. The mission statement of their most recent position paper states that the “risk of illness or injury associated with the use of dental mercury presents an unreasonable, direct and substantial danger to the health of dental patients and the health of dental personnel.”

The IAOMT recommends the following safety procedures be followed by dental staff:

“Chunk” the old filling out, while using water to keep it cool. This reduces the amount of mercury vapor released.

Use a high vacuum evacuator with a special tip. These reduce spatter of particles as well as remove more mercury vapor from the immediate area.

Use of a rubber dam to help protect the patient from mercury vapor and particles.

Using a vacuum suction air filter to remove mercury vapor from the air.

Supplemental air so the patient can breathe through their nose.

Do not polish mercury fillings.

Does your dental office practice mercury-safe dentistry? For your health, and the health of your loved ones, this is a question you should ask.

Carol Sherman DDS is a Practice Owner at Cosmetic and Natural Dentistry. 2600 Newburg Road, Easton PA. For more information call 610-252-1454 or visit

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