Surprisingly, there hasn’t been a ton of research on dental workers’ exposure to mercury – perhaps because the party line is that mercury amalgam is “safe.”
Of course, the American Dental Association’s “Dental Mercury Hygiene Recommendations” belie this, urging caution at all points in the process of handling amalgam.
And what research has been done clearly shows the damaging effects of occupational exposure to mercury. Even research published in their own journal supports this point – such as the study published last fall which showed a “positive association” between occupational mercury exposure and tremor.
We’re certainly not lacking evidence that amalgam must be handled carefully. Yet there’s also plenty of evidence of dentists not taking it seriously. For instance, there was the report out of Ireland last month, suggesting that despite assurances to the contrary, many dentists don’t even follow such basic safety measures like having amalgam separators in their operatories. Or consider the research of Pakistan’s Sustainable Development Policy Institute, which shows just how deadly the air in dental clinics can be.
It is evident from the data of 42 dental sites in 17 countries…that at most dental sites in many countries, including Pakistan, the indoor mercury vapors levels exceed far above the permissible limit recommended for safe physical and mental health. At these sites, public in general and the medical, paramedical staff and vulnerable population in particular, are at most serious risk to health resulting from exposure to toxic and hazardous mercury.
But surely that can’t be the case here in the US, right?
Wrong. Here’s what the head of a Colorado firm that makes equipment to measure airborne mercury at industrial sites recently had to say about the situation here:
On numerous occasions, he said, he has detected mercury levels in dental offices that were two to three times the average workday exposure limit of 100 micrograms per cubic meter set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but patients and the staff were wearing little or no protective equipment.
“I’ve seen in dental offices what would make these other offices have to shut down,” said [Alex] Hummell, CEO of Mercury Instruments USA Inc. “They would be closing their doors and getting respirators on.”
Instead, he said, “there are kids running around everywhere. It’s nuts. It’s the exact same toxin, and it’s being treated totally differently. Why is it being allowed to be so unregulated?”
Indeed. And more:
Several years ago, Hummell said, he set up a booth at a regional dental conference in Denver to demonstrate how his equipment could pick up rising mercury levels with a mere gentle brushing of a filling in an old tooth.
He said he also showed dentists an American Dental Association pamphlet urging them to periodically monitor their offices for mercury, a circular that mostly drew chuckles and ridicule from the dentists.
We wonder how much chuckling and ridicule there would be if they had to confront all the patients whose health and lives have been ruined by mercury toxicity from their amalgam fillings. How funny would it all seem if they had to face colleagues who were sickened by occupational exposures, more than a few of whom became too sick to practice at all?
Handling mercury amalgam is no laughing matter. Even after the material is completely phased out, we’ll still have to deal with it – in the many millions of mouths that already contain these fillings. For the sake of dental workers, patients, and our planet, the safe handling and disposal of mercury amalgam is a must.
Here’s how we protect ourselves and you in our office:
Why do we go to such lengths? Because it’s the right thing to do.