Why should dentists, dental hygienists, dental assistants, and other dental staff be concerned about occupational exposures to mercury from dental amalgam?
Dentists, dental staff, and dental students are exposed to mercury at a greater rate than their patients. Severe exposures from past practices include hand-squeezing of fresh amalgam, where drops of liquid mercury could run over the dentist’s hands and contaminate the entire office.1 Dangerous levels of mercury are still generated in the dental workplace, and research has clearly identified that exposure to these mercury levels can cause ill-health to dental workers,1,3,45,,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,2627,,28,29,30,31,32,33 and dental students.34,35,36 Another area that has received much attention is the possibility of reproductive hazards to female dental personnel, including menstrual cycle disorders, fertility issues, and pregnancy risks.37,38,39,40,41,42
Scientific research demonstrates that dental mercury amalgam exposes dental professionals, dental staff, dental patients, and fetuses to releases of mercury vapor, mercury-containing particulate, and/or other forms of mercury contamination.43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61,62,63,64,65,666,7,68,69,707,1,72,73,74,75,76,77,78,79,80 Mercury vapor, which is continually released from dental amalgam mercury fillings, is known to be released at higher rates during brushing, cleaning, clenching of teeth, chewing, etc.,81,82,83,84,85,86,87,88,89,90,91,92,93,94 and mercury is also known to be released during the placement, replacement, and removal of dental mercury amalgam fillings.95,96,97,98,99,100,101,102,103
Dental workers require protection from mercury exposures when working with dental mercury amalgam, and a variety of studies have specifically called for protective measures to be taken in the dental office as a means of limiting mercury releases.104,105,106,107,108,109,110,111,112,113,114,115
Becoming a mercury-free dental office (i.e. an office that no longer places mercury/silver/amalgam fillings) is the first step. However, even if mercury is no longer used in your office, you will still have patients with existing mercury fillings. This means that you will want to take precautionary measures during dental procedures involving these fillings. We suggest that you learn more about IAOMT’s Safe Mercury Amalgam Removal Technique (SMART) and The SMART Choice to protect your health, as well as the other resources from the IAOMT on this website. You might also consider joining the IAOMT so that you can learn more about biological dentistry.
Employee exposure to mercury is regulated in the United States by the 1970 Occupational Safety and Health Act116 and Workers’ Rights Handbooks117 from the United States Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which establish that all employees have the right to know about the chemicals in their work environment. OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) states: “All employers with hazardous chemicals in their workplaces must have labels and safety data sheets