US dentists are using nearly half of country’s total mercury in products
CHAMPIONSGATE, Fla., U.S.: Dental amalgam accounted for 46.8% of the total elemental mercury that was used to make products in the U.S. in 2018, a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has shown. In that year, 9,287 pounds (4,212 kg) of mercury was used for dental amalgam in the U.S.—enough for millions of mercury-containing tooth restorations, the EPA report found.
“What this means is that mercury-containing dental fillings placed into people’s mouths constitute the largest use of the elemental form of this toxic substance,” commented Dr. Jack Kall, executive chairperson of the board of directors of the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology (IAOMT), in a press release.
“Mercury has been banned from a gamut of other consumer products and a growing number of countries are ending the use of dental mercury. Yet, it’s still being routinely used in the U.S., and most American dental patients aren’t even aware that their silver-colored fillings contain this mercury,” Kall continued.
The EPA report found that 540,000 pounds of elemental mercury and mercury compounds was used in the U.S. in 2018; around 22,000 pounds was used to make products that contain mercury, such as dental amalgam, sensors and fluorescent lights. Dental amalgam is made up of around 50% of the element and is the largest source of human exposure to mercury, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
The EPA report is the environmental watchdog’s first official inventory report on mercury supply, use and trade in the U.S. since it was mandated to publish such reports in June 2018, under the requirements of the Toxic Substances Control Act. The IAOMT has publicized the report in order to draw attention to the use of what it called a known neurotoxin.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers dental amalgam restorations to be safe for adults and children over the age of 6
Since its founding in 1984, the IAOMT has examined the use of dental amalgam and provided information about the health risks to patients, dental professionals and the environment posed by its use. One of the resources it has made public is the Safe Mercury Amalgam Removal Technique, a set of recommendations that includes information about the release of mercury during the removal of dental amalgam restorations.
What about the Minamata Convention?
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a United Nations treaty that aims to protect human health and the environment from the harm caused by mercury emissions and compounds. It was first signed in October 2013, and 119 countries of the original 128 signatories have ratified it, including the U.S.
The treaty recognizes dental amalgam as a leading use of mercury in products, but parties have differed in their opinions on the phasing out of its use in dentistry. The European Union aligned its regulations to the convention by banning the use of dental amalgam restorations for breastfeeding women (unless medically necessary) and for children aged under 15. The ban came into effect in 2018.
A proposal by African countries for a global phasing out by 2024 of the use of dental amalgam for children aged under 15 and breastfeeding women was mooted at the last meeting of the conference of the parties (COP) to the convention, in November 2019. Concerns were reportedly raised about the timeline put forward within the proposal, and the parties agreed to reconsider the issue at the next COP meeting, which is to be held in 2021.