Dentistry’s history with mercury dates back nearly 150 years. Mercury is a versatile, affordable filling known for its strength and durability. It isn’t used just by itself, though. It’s part of what’s called an amalgam, which means it’s a combination of metals, including silver, tin, copper and even small amounts of zinc, indium or palladium. Mercury is also commonly used in dental amalgam. With it, dental fillings become more pliable and, when mixed with an alloy powder, mercury helps create a compound soft enough for dentists to press into a tooth for a cavity filling. Mercury amalgam hardens quickly, and durably withstands the rigors of biting and chewing. Dentists place more than 1 billion mercury fillings in patients’ mouths each year.
Do amalgams release mercury vapor?
For decades it was believed that once mercury amalgam was dried in a tooth, no mercury was released into a person’s mouth. But researchers have discovered that small amounts of mercury vapor are released during normal filling wear. With more sophisticated scientific tests now available, researchers now know that amalgam fillings generate up to 27 micrograms of mercury vapor per day. The amount of mercury vapor released during dental procedures could result in levels of exposure that exceed government safety standards.
Are dental staff at risk for mercury toxicity?
Those who regularly work with mercury fillings are required to take precaution. Daily mercury exposure can cause build up and produce symptoms of toxicity. Studies have also shown that some dental staff have elevated levels of mercury in their bodies. The reason is mercury vapor. Elemental mercury liquefies at room temperature and easily vaporizes. Also, drilling and removing amalgam generates fine particles and vapor, then is easily absorbed into the lungs and nasal tissues. Although there is risk for patients, it is small in comparison with dental office staff. For a guide to protecting yourself or dental staff from the serious health risks associated with drilling mercury amalgam, please visit: http://info.iqair.com/mercury-amalgam-guide.
Symptoms of mercury toxicity include:
- Muscle atrophy
- Hair loss
- Autoimmune disease
How to prevent mercury vapor released during dental procedures
To help prevent mercury toxicity during dental procedures, dentists are encouraged to use high-powered suction tools during the dental filling or removal process.
There are two suction techniques to help reduce mercury vapor when drilling:
- Saliva ejector. A saliva ejector removes saliva from a patient’s mouth.
- High-volume suction device. This device helps keep the tooth dry. It also removes debris, such as mercury amalgam particles, as the dental drill dislodges them. High-suction dental tools, do not, however, control mercury vapor.
How to remove mercury vapor from dentist’s offices
Because mercury can also be vaporous, dental offices are encouraged to take safety a step further by using an air purifying and filtration system. The IQAir Dental Series, for example, is designed to filter indoor air pollutants found in most dental offices. Dental pollutants include not only mercury vapor in the air, but also disinfectant smells, abrasion powder, drill aerosols, bacteria, viruses and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
A study conducted by the Institute of Hygiene at the University of Heidelberg concluded that IQAir air purifiers in dental offices effectively eliminate mercury vapors, formaldehyde, particulates, microorganisms and odors. The result is a cleaner, healthier dental office that’s safe for both patients and dental staff.