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Dental Workers at High Risk of Mercury Exposure

New research finds the high-speed dental drill exposes dental professionals to high levels of mercury, adding to the growing body of scientific evidence warning about the continued use of toxic mercury in our mouths.

Your dental amalgam (mercury) fillings are a source of mercury vapour leaking into your body and they’re a health risk for your dentist.

“A number of studies show mercury fillings are hurting people on a daily basis,” says Dr. David Warwick, a Hanna, Alberta-based dentist who sits on the board of the Pure North S’Energy Foundation.

His new study, published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology in July, adds greater urgency to the issue.

Mercury fillings have been used in dentistry for 180 years, exposing millions
of dental professionals to its dangers

It found that the fine particles generated by drilling with a high-speed drill — used in such procedures as removing dental amalgams, preparing a tooth for a crown or splitting a tooth for surgical removal — exposes dental professionals to a higher level of mercury than previously thought.

The study, led by Dr. Warwick working with Drs. Matt Young, Joe Palmer and Robin Warwick Ermel, also found that this previously unrecognized source can emit mercury vapour for hours after a procedure.

The levels of mercury vapour created by drilling frequently exceed the safety thresholds of several jurisdictions and agencies.

This significant, under-recognized source of localized exposure to mercury vapour — even when using the best controls — shows that standard practices appear to be inadequate and makes the need for barrier protection and inhalation protection even more crucial.

“There are many, many procedures we do in dentistry where we have to drill the filling that’s there,” says Dr. Warwick, who notes that mercury fillings have been used in dentistry for 180 years, exposing millions of dental professionals to its dangers.

“None of those should be done, unless everybody is protected, based on what this study found.”

What is dental amalgam made of?

While countries like Norway and Sweden have outright banned dental amalgam (mercury) fillings, “silver” fillings are still commonly used in Canada. Comprised of silver, copper, tin and 50 per cent mercury, they’re cheap to install and durable. But they continuously emit mercury vapour into the body.

Mercury is associated with a number of health problems, from chronic headaches and fatigue to cardiovascular disease, according to the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology.

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