One Friday, I returned a call to a patient who was bringing her mom in for a dental appointment that coming Monday, as her mom had lost a mercury “silver” filling. She described how she’d picked up the filling with a latex glove, put it in a baggie and sealed it, and put both the baggie and glove in a glass jar and sealed that. “Was that okay?” she asked.
“Almost perfect,” I replied. She’d certainly done the right thing by not touching it bare-handed. She was ecologically responsible, not throwing it into the garbage where it would end up off-gassing in a landfill or flushing it down the toilet to contaminate the water supply. Her choice of a sealed glass container would prevent the ever-releasing mercury vapor from polluting the air.
“Almost perfect?” she said. “Dr. Glaros, what would you have done?”
“Well, with 40 years of dental experience, and with a clear knowledge of the positions of the American Dental Association and the Food and Drug Administration on the safety of mercury/silver fillings for patients, I would have told your mom to put that filling in the only safe place on the planet: back in her mouth.”
We both had a good laugh. But after we hung up, I grew sad. You see, when a dentist handles mercury/silver filling material (amalgam), it’s considered “toxic” until placed in the tooth. And upon removing the filling, we must dispose of the material as “hazardous waste.” In between time? ADA and FDA policies agree with my “only safe place” comment. This is sad. This is also crazy.
The odd logic of the amalgam being “safe” only when in the mouth” – along with my witnessing the detrimental effects of “silver fillings” on the health of patients – is what convinced me to make mine a “mercury-free” dental practice many years ago. And it’s what compels me to serve my patients through the safe removal of toxic fillings.
How I long for the faulty “mercury” logic to be corrected, for dentists to be open to better options for their patients, for patients to find the higher quality care that is readily available and for that mercury filling (and baggie and glove) in the glass jar to be merely a reminder of a practice now extinct!