Sometimes, you can hear a lot by listening to what’s not being said.
Consider last month’s CDC report about a peculiar cluster of cases of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). This chronic lung disease is characterized by extensive scarring of the lung tissue and gradually deteriorating lung function.
Of the nine patients in the cluster, all but one were dentists. The other was a dental technician. Seven had died. Two were dying. According to the CDC report, dental workers have been found to be 23 times more likely to have IPF than the general population.
The CDC didn’t pinpoint an exact cause, but to be sure, the air quality in dental offices is a real concern. A study published earlier this year found that exposure to nanoparticles in dental labs and clinics can be extremely high, likely released from dental restorative materials being worked on in those settings.
We concluded that dental employees are exposed to nanoparticles in their working environment and are therefore potentially at risk for certain respiratory and systematic diseases.
And as we’ve noted before, right now, there’s still much more we don’t know about how nanomaterials act in the human body than what we do know.
The CDC did mention a few dental materials “with known or potential respiratory toxicity,” including silica, polyvinyl siloxane, and alginate. They had much less to say about mercury amalgam, though, which is still routinely used in about half of American dental offices today.
If you’re are placing, removing, or polishing amalgam without protection, you – and everyone else in the room, including the patient – is inhaling this potent toxin. Those who work in the office inhale it, and other dental toxins, all day.
While mercury is perhaps best known as a neurotoxin – a poison that affects the nervous system, including the brain – it can cause other problems, too. The World Health Organization, for instance, notes that
inhalation of mercury vapour can produce harmful effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal.
These issues drive our commitment to practicing mercury-safe dentistry and keeping our office as green as possible. All the air in our office is continuously filtered by a Faust Series 400 air purifier with a large carbon bed and a safe HEPA filter to remove particles as small as .3 microns. Treatment areas are protected with ionizing filters, as well.
This year, we had the opportunity to measure mercury levels in our office. The Jerome Mercury Vapor Analyzer registered no mercury anywhere we measured, including under, on, and around the dental chair, and the corners of the treatment rooms.
Zero. Zilch. Nada.
We were the first tenants in this space 9 years ago. Thankfully, the precautions we took – and continue to take – to control mercury vapor contamination worked. You can learn more about these precautions here.
Of course, if you’re in the healthcare orthodoxy and haven’t given much thought to the issue of toxicity, you’re bound to overlook mercury. The silence on this matter is not only deafening but damaging to patients and dental workers alike – not to mention our environment. (The dental industry continues to be one of the biggest sources of mercury pollution today.)
As we see it, so long as anyone has mercury amalgam fillings still in their head, mercury-safe dentistry is a must.