Dental amalgam fillings are probably the most common type of filling dental patients opt for. Ironically, they also receive quite a bit of backlash. The amount of mercury in amalgam fillings has long been a subject of debate. This is especially true since dental amalgam releases mercury vapor. Apparently, that’s not the only bad thing to come out of dental amalgam fillings. Aside from human health, mercury from dental fillings could be contaminating water supplies. But why is there such a negative impact between dental fillings and the environment?
It all begins with how dental amalgam fillings are utilized. At the dental office, your amalgam fillings often end up in the sewage after removal. And even if you get the wastewater treatment, bits of the mercury from the amalgam waste can remain in seemingly clean water. When this goes back into local waterways, it can make its way into the environment via irrigation or aquaculture. It’s no wonder, then, why there are many different sources of mercury in the environment.
With this negative link between dental fillings and the environment, what can we do to lessen this impact?
Amalgam Waste is Usually Clumped in with Other Sources of Garbage
When it comes to removing or replacing dental amalgam fillings, not all dental offices have the same practices. Some practices approach it like standard filling removal.
Before the start of the procedure, you’ll take anesthesia. This numbs pain or discomfort you might feel. The type of anesthesia depends on your level of pain tolerance and anxiety. From there, dentists opt whether or not to use a dental dam. This is a thin piece of rubber lining that a dentist places over your mouth to catch any falling debris from the filling removal. They then place the new filling. After some cleaning and polishing, you’re all good to go.
Because dental amalgam fillings contain mercury, however, other dentists prepare more thoroughly when removing them. Amalgam releases mercury vapor during removal, so other dental offices use medical devices to ensure their patients’ safety. This can include a nasal respirator to protect patients from breathing in mercury vapor. Dentists may also have their patients gargle a rinse of activated charcoal to bind to the mercury after filling removal.
But it’s what happens when dental fillings and the environment come together that is a concern. Once your dentist shaves the fillings off, some dental offices casually dump them into a waste bin. Unlike most hazardous waste, however, mercury has properties that make it hard to dispose of, especially when it contaminates other surfaces. When it makes its way to wastewater treatment facilities, mercury in dental amalgams becomes an environmental problem.
Using Amalgam Separators Reduces the Sources of Mercury in the Environment
Dental offices around the US are now, by law, must have amalgam separators installed. This combats the trouble the amount of mercury in amalgam fillings poses. They should also separate amalgam waste from other types of medical waste. This is so that one can eventually recycle them.
The relationship between dental fillings and the environment doesn’t have to be negative. Just dispose of it properly.