All About Amalgam

“I think I have mercury poisoning!”
“Is my child in danger?”
“My silver fillings are killing me!”

Perhaps you’ve heard one, or two – or 20 – questions from patients regarding dental amalgam in recent weeks. An episode of Dr. Oz that aired in March 2013 focused on silver fillings and the health risks posed to patients who receive them. Along with experts in alternative medicine, Dr. Oz conducted experiments on a synthetic mouth, demonstrating levels of mercury vapor released in the mouth during times of brushing or tooth grinding.

While the findings of those on-air tests may have seemed shocking to many people, Dr. Oz did not mention the numerous studies from scientific and health organizations throughout the world – such as the American Dental Association, World Health Organization, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – that claim amalgam has no negative impact on a patient’s health.

In fact, mercury has been used in dentistry for nearly 180 years, with very little evidence supporting the notion that they lead to mercury poisoning or adverse health effects. While studies have shown a correlation between amalgam fillings and various health issues, there is no evidence to suggest causation between the two. Today, most dentists still choose amalgam capsules when placing an order for dental supplies due to the cost-effectiveness and durability of alloy inlays.

Amalgam and the Environment

Approximately 50% of mercury in the environment is released from human activity; of that amount, 1% is attributed to the dental industry. However, while that number is low, repeated testing shows that dental wastewater contains 100-2,000 parts per million – far exceeding the average national regulation of 0.2ppm. Sweden, Norway, and Denmark have actually banned the use of amalgam in dentistry all together due to environmental concerns.

Maybe the city you practice in is placing tighter restrictions on dental wastewater; or maybe your practice is going green, and you’re looking for ways to be more environmentally responsible. If handled properly, waste amalgam can have minimal impact on the environment. It’s important to occasionally remind your staff that amalgam waste should not be thrown in the garbage, included in infectious waste containers, or rinsed down the drain.

Instead, use chair-side traps, vacuum pump filters, and amalgam separators to capture and recycle waste. The SolmeteX Hg5 Amalgam Separator from SmartPractice is a professionally engineered system that enables your staff to capture mercurydischarge easily, without the use of electricity, timers, or pumps, and recycle waste with convenient shipping containers and documentation. Simple-to-use equipment like this is an easy way to make a big impact on the environment.

Tips for Safe Amalgam Recycling

The American Dental Association recommends the following steps for recycling amalgam waste:

  • When placing your dental supplies order, buy amalgam capsules in various sContour Self-Activating Amalgam Capsules by Kerrizes to reduce waste
  • Use proper infection control supplies when handling waste as it is often mixed with bodily fluids
  • Check with your amalgam waste recycler to determine special requirements for collecting, storing, and transporting waste in your area
  • Store waste in a clearly-labeled, covered plastic container (or as directed by your recycler)
  • Make sure your recycler complies with ADA-ANSI standards

Amalgam Alternatives

Of course amalgam fillings aren’t right for every patient. Even though composite resins and ionomer cements are slightly more expensive and less durable than amalgam, they provide great cosmetic benefits that an increasing number of patients are demanding. When purchasing your dental restoratives, shop with SmartPractice; you’ll find your favorite manufacturers- such as 3M ESPE, Dentsply, Kerr, and Septodont – at prices 5-15% lower than you’re used to paying.

What questions are your patients asking about amalgam, and how are you responding to them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.