There’s been some significant progress recently in the fight against dental amalgam – the stuff used to make “silver” fillings. As you may (or may not) know, those “silver” fillings are actually about 50% mercury and still widely used in dentistry today.
Mercury, of course, is a potent neurotoxin. And it’s also why the European Union has decided to ban amalgam fillings in kids under 15, as well as pregnant and breastfeeding women. The agreement goes into effect on July 1, 2018.
Additionally, it requires each member nation to create a plan for reducing amalgam use toward the ultimate goal of a total phase out.
“The children of Europe have won,” said Charlie Brown, executive director of Consumers for Dental Choice, www.mercury-free.org, and president of the World Alliance of Mercury-Free Dentistry, www.mercuryfreedentistry.net. “The next generation of European will be safe from mercury dental fillings.”
This new regulation is a crucial step toward a mercury-free future. The EU, after all, is the world’s largest user of dental mercury, going through nearly 100 tons each year.
But it’s also just a partial victory. More needs to be done to protect everyone from chronic exposure to this toxin. Education is a big part of it. Here in the US, most people are still unaware that mercury is the main component of “silver” fillings. They don’t realize there’s cause for concern. They inherently trust their dentist, and most dentists who place amalgams never discuss what they’re made of.
Importantly, amalgam poses risks to far more than just the patient. Dental mercury is also an enormous environmental pollutant – which is why we were thrilled to hear that the EPA finalized its new rule for reducing mercury discharges from dental offices.
Now, all offices that handle dental mercury must have amalgam separators that are up to standard. They work by using gravity to collect solid waste so it can be properly disposed and out of the sewer system. If an office already has separators but they’re not up to standard, the devices must be replaced. All practices must comply by the end of 2019.
“Amalgam separators,” according to the EPA,
are a practical, affordable and readily available technology for capturing mercury and other metals before they are discharged into sewers that drain to POTWs [publicly owned treatment works]. Once captured by a separator, mercury can be recycled.
EPA expects compliance with this final rule will annually reduce the discharge of mercury by 5.1 tons as well as 5.3 tons of other metals found in waste dental amalgam to POTWs.
Offices are also required to collect and recycle scrap amalgam, as well as clean all chairside traps with non-bleach, non-chlorine cleanser to prevent the release of mercury.
It’s estimated that 40% of dental offices already have separators installed due to personal choice or local regulation. But this new rule will bring more than 100,000 US dental offices into compliance.
This is great news for the environment, but again, it’s a partial victory. As long as amalgam is placed in mouths, mercury will still be getting into the environment by way of human waste, cremations, burials, and other avenues. As long as mercury is placed in mouths, it remains a threat to personal, public, and environmental health alike.
We deserve a mercury-free future.