Environmental group seeks ban on toxic mercury used in dental amalgam fillings
(NaturalNews) The dangers associated with mercury-based dental fillings are not isolated to just the individuals who receive them, says a new study recently published by the environmental justice group BAN Toxics (BT). Like its name implies, BT is pushing for a ban on mercury use in dentistry due to persistent mercury vapors that threaten not only patients but also dentists, dental assistants, and dental students, all of whom are constantly exposed to mercury-polluted air.
Entitled "What is in the Air: Mercury Vapor Levels in Dental Institutions," the new study highlights how mercury exposure levels at many dental practices and schools greatly exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maximum exposure thresholds. While there is no safe level of exposure to mercury, the levels to which the average dental worker or patient is exposed through the air in practices that use mercury fillings is excessive.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has established an action level for mercury exposure of 1,000 nanograms per cubic meter (ng/m3), while the EPA considers exposure levels equaling or exceeding 10,000 ng/m3 to warrant the issuing of an evacuation alert. But based on air tests conducted in five dental offices and three dental supply stores in the Philippines, levels of mercury vapor typically exceed these two limits.
On the low end, mercury was detected in the air at a level of 967 ng/m3, which is just below the ATSDR threshold. But on the high end, mercury was detected at levels exceeding 35,000 ng/m3, which is more than three times the EPA evacuation alert limit. The names of the clinics and stores were not released as part of the study, but due to their varied locations throughout the country, it is reasonable to conclude that mercury pollution is generally problematic in modern dentistry.
"The exposure to toxic mercury vapors in dental institutions is unnecessary and preventable," says Attorney Richard Gutierrez, executive director of BT, about the shocking findings. "Learning methodologies can be put into place to avoid toxic mercury. This should itself be a strong incentive as well to abandon dental amalgam use in its entirety in the Philippines."
Why are dentists still using mercury when safer, more effective alternatives already exist?
A growing number of dentists have begun to voluntarily phase out the use of mercury amalgam fillings, which contain about 50 percent mercury, 22-32 percent silver, 14 percent tin and 8 percent copper and other compounds. But there are still many dentists throughout the world that use them, which some are hoping will change.
"Mercury-free alternatives are now widely-available [and are] safer and as cost effective as amalgam," said Dr. Lillian Lasaten-Ebuen, president of the International Association of Oral Medicine & Toxicology Philippines (IAOMT-Philippines). "Philippine dentistry should move beyond amalgam and we should prepare the future generation of dentists to embrace better and safer alternatives for their patients."
BT is also calling for dental curriculum in the country to change, excluding dental amalgams as an option for filling caries. A position that the U.S. and other Western nations would do good to adopt, the Philippines plans to completely phase out the use of dental amalgams in the health sector by 2016, according to Inquirer News, as the brain-damaging chemical has no legitimate or safe use in health and medicine.
"We go to our doctors and dentists in order to be well, and mercury has no place in a healthy society," adds Dr. Lasaten-Ebuen. "We need to uphold our Hippocratic oath as health practitioners, to help the sick and abstain from harming any person."