A most wonderful and amazing thing happened at the American Dental Association meeting earlier this fall: Some presenters advocated a move away from mercury amalgam fillings for the sake of both patient health and the environment.
The focus of the panel was “green dentistry,” which was presented as not just eco-friendly but “economically savvy.” Though our office went green years ago out of respect for the health of patients, staff, community and our planet alike, any motive for practicing safer, healthier dentistry is fine by us!
One of the most critically important, eco-friendly steps a dentist can do is install an amalgam separator, which cost[s] less than $1,000 and doesn’t take up a lot of space. They are now mandatory in 12 states, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may require them by the end of 2012, [Ronald D. Perry, DMD, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine] noted.
Many dentists think they don’t need separators because they don’t place amalgams, only remove them. But the [Eco-Dentistry Association] contends there’s more amalgam waste in practices that don’t place amalgams than those who do because they do so much removal, according to Dr. Perry.
Indeed. If amalgam is handled at all, separators are only common sense and should be mandatory. For now, the dental industry remains the biggest mercury polluter, with anywhere from 40 to 50% of all wastewater mercury coming from dental offices. In some areas, nearly 90% of the mercury has been from removed fillings.
That separators aren’t required nationwide already is something we can thank the ADA for. As Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project explains,
In December 2008, during the waning days of the Bush administration, the EPA struck a deal with the American Dental Association, the trade association for most of America’s dentists. That midnight deal, officially known as a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, allowed dentists to avoid being subject to federal guidelines on mercury emissions. Instead, the ADA promised to encourage its members to voluntarily install “amalgam separators…”.
Obviously, that didn’t go so well. Less than 15% of all separator sales were to dentists in voluntary compliance states.
But back to the eco-dentistry panel, which made an even more stunning statement. As Dr. Bicuspid reports,
The panelists recommended using mercury-free alternative materials for fillings such as porcelain, composites, glass, and gold, because they are better for patients’ health as well as the environment. [emphasis added]
Most progress in the fight to get mercury out of dentistry has come from environmental concerns – such as the NYU dental school’s step back from mercury amalgam earlier this year and the phase out of dental mercury in nations such as Norway. Patient health is often a secondary concern. So it was heartening to hear it get equal billing, especially at an ADA gathering!
Our patients could tell you a lot about the benefits of going mercury-free.