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Story at-a-glance -

  • Dental clinics are the main source of mercury discharges to public water treatment centers, according to the EPA, which estimates there are about 160,000 dentists in the US who use or remove amalgam -- and virtually all of them discharge their wastewater to water treatment centers
  • Dentists discharge about 4.4 tons of mercury a year into the environment
  • An amalgam separator is a wastewater treatment device installed at the source, in the dental office, that can remove 95-99 percent of the mercury in the wastewater
  • The EPA has proposed a rule that would require US dentists to install amalgam separators; they estimate it would reduce mercury emissions by nine tons each year
  • The average annual cost of an amalgam separator for dental offices is just $700; the EPA’s rule is expected to be finalized in September 2015
 

EPA’s Next Target -- American Dentists Who Are Mercury Polluters

October 14, 2014 | 79,619 views

By Dr. Mercola

Those silver mercury fillings whose vapors readily pass through cell membranes, across your blood-brain barrier, and into your central nervous system? The damage doesn't stop there.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently cited studies showing that approximately half of the mercury in the environment is there due to dental offices' amalgam (i.e. silver filling) waste.

In fact, dental clinics are the main source of mercury discharges to public water treatment centers, according to the EPA, which estimates there are about 160,000 dentists in the US who use or remove amalgam and virtually all of them discharge their wastewater to water treatment centers.

In all, dentists discharge about 4.4 tons of mercury a year to such centers. The problem, of course, is that the mercury then settles into sewer systems or the biosolids and sewage sludge that are generated during water treatment.

What happens to the sludge? Some of it ends up in landfills, while other portions are incinerated (thereby polluting the air) or applied as agricultural fertilizer (polluting your food), or seep into waterways (polluting fish and wildlife).

Unfortunately, mercury is persistent and bioaccumulative once it reaches the environment. And when it is exposed to certain microorganisms in water, it can change into highly toxic methylmercury – the type that now contaminates most seafood.

Most Americans don't realize that there is a simple solution that could drastically cut down on the environmental pollution caused by mercury waste, if only dentists would choose to use it.

EPA Proposes Rule Requiring Dentists to Use Amalgam Separators

The road to a federal rule mandating separators for American dentists has been long and circuitous.

The US is a federal system, so ideas generally start at the state level. A century ago, a distinguished Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis, called the states "laboratories of democracy."

Fourteen years ago, Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project launched a campaign to persuade state and local governments to mandate separators. He enlisted state-based environmental groups, plus national groups like Clean Water Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The prototype for action was the city of Toronto, Canada, which cut the mercury in water by more than half by mandating separators. Over the decade of the 2000s, 12 states, most of them in the Northeast, mandated separators, as did many US cities, such as Duluth, Wichita, and San Francisco.

As pressure built for a national mandate, the EPA engaged first in political diversion, signing a document with the American Dental Association to do a voluntary system. As any economist or sensible citizen knows, voluntary environmental standards do not work, because it raises the cost of business only for the good guys.

Bender issued a report exposing the EPA plan. Because it was done in the final days of the second Bush Administration, he termed the report "The Midnight Deal." Former Congressman Dennis Kucinich convened an oversight hearing calling more attention to EPA's unwillingness to act.

In 2010, the EPA first announced it would create a rule requiring dentists who use dental amalgam to at least use best-management practices and install amalgam separators. An amalgam separator is a wastewater treatment device installed at the source, in the dental office, that can remove 95-99 percent of the mercury in the wastewater.

As originally proposed, EPA said the regulation would be finalized by 2012. But inaction continued, and it got worse in early 2014, when EPA staff were told the whole idea of a separator mandate would be put on the shelf. Conscientious staff objected to backing off addressing this major source of mercury pollution.

Bender, Charlie Brown of Consumers for Dental Choice, and major environmental groups launched a counterattack, Bender by making the case directly to the EPA (and to the media), while Brown launched a petition drive. This campaign was supported by Mercola.com, and many of our readers responded.

To its credit – and responding to the petition that over 13,000 of you signed– EPA decided to go forward with the rule. The rule's expected finalization date is September 2015.1 But we must leave nothing to chance! At the end of this article we ask you who have not yet signed that petition to do so!

By requiring dental offices to install amalgam separators, the EPA expects the amount of metals discharged into the environment to be cut by nine tons each year2 -- and at a very low cost to dentists.

The average annual cost of an amalgam separator for dental offices is $700, making it a "common sense solution to managing mercury that would otherwise be released to air, land, and water," the EPA noted.3

Unfortunately, dental offices that have already installed an amalgam separator will be allowed to keep it and be considered in compliance – even if it doesn't meet the proposed amalgam removal efficiency standards.

Still, aside from eliminating the use of dental mercury entirely… which is the ultimate goal we're working toward… this is a step in the right direction. About a dozen states already mandate the use of amalgam separators, but the EPA's rule will add a federal requirement.

Why Are So Many Dentists Still Using Mercury?

In order to protect human health and the environment, mercury should be phased out as soon, and as quickly, as possible. The international treaty, named the United Nations Minamata Convention on Mercury, requires the phasing out of many mercury-containing products, including thermometers, by 2020, and also calls for an end to all mercury mining within 15 years.

The treaty takes effect only after its ratification by 50 nations, which can take three or four years. Instead of working for the phase-down and ultimate phase-out of amalgam use, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Dental Association (ADA) are pushing stalling tactics.

They say that before phasing out amalgam we should go through a litany of diversions like (1) prevention of tooth decay, (2) research and mercury inventories, and (3) mercury waste management – none of which actually phase down amalgam use, as required by the Minamata Convention.

But no more research is needed before we take action – the many effective, affordable, and available mercury-free alternatives have already been researched for over half a century, and we certainly don't need any more research telling us that mercury is a problem.

And the realistic solution to waste management, of course, even beyond the amalgam separators, is to stop creating more mercury waste – i.e., stop using amalgam. Today, more than 50 percent of dentists in America have stopped using mercury filings.

That's major progress and Charlie Brown's Consumers for Dental Choice played a huge role in that change as when he first started his crusade only 3% of US dentists were mercury free. He helped prevent dental boards from prosecuting many of the early mercury free dentists.

But we still have a long way to go to end this archaic practice of putting mercury in people's teeth (and into the environment). Unfortunately, we seem to have stalled out at around 50 percent of dentists who still insist on using amalgam. Charlie Brown, leader of Consumers for Dental Choice, noted:

"We think the pro-mercury dentists have stabilized because they won't learn anything new and the profits are so easy. They are concealing from the patients that amalgam is a mercury filling.

The enabler of pro-mercury dentistry or of dental mercury is the FDA. The FDA says to dentists and says to the manufacturers, 'You may conceal the mercury from patients. You don't need to tell them,' and of course, therefore they don't."

A Poignant Reminder of Why Mercury Doesn't Belong in Dentistry

Dental amalgam is an antiquated tooth filling material that is 50 percent mercury—a potent neurotoxin—combined with silver, copper, and tin. Your health is at grave risk when you get mercury dental fillings, and the effects can be either acute or chronic. Children and pregnant women are at greatest risk.

A single dental amalgam filling may release as much as 15 micrograms of mercury per day. To put that into perspective, eating mercury-tainted seafood can expose you to about 2.3 micrograms per day -- and that alone was enough for scientists to call for a worldwide warning back in 2006!4

As noted in a 2010 extensive scientific review on mercury exposure and children's health, there is no known safe level of exposure for mercury!5 Ideally, exposure should be zero, so any dentist insisting that mercury exposure from amalgam is "minimal" or "inconsequential" is really doing their patients a reprehensible disservice.

Not only does mercury fuel the flames of inflammation, which is an underlying factor of most chronic disease, it also hampers your body's ability to detoxify itself, which further exacerbates matters. Mercury toxicity has been linked to Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and other neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis.

Earlier this year, Maria Indermuhle told her own harrowing story of getting mercury poisoning from her dental amalgams, which was actually misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis. She completely recovered after getting the amalgams removed. General symptoms of mercury poisoning include the following, which can easily be overlooked or misdiagnosed. If you have any of these, it may be a wise move to get a heavy metal screen test, to check for toxicity of mercury and other heavy metals:

Impairment of vision, hearing, or speech, including light sensitivity Lack of motor coordination Muscle twitching and/or tremors Headaches
Weakness Itching or burning Skin discoloration (red nose, cheeks, or lips) Profuse sweating
Elevated heart rate High blood pressure Mood swings, nervousness, anxiety, or irritability Insomnia

Important Information Regarding Amalgam Removal

For those of you who have mercury fillings, I recommend that you have them removed. However, it's very important to get it done right. Removing amalgam fillings can expose you to significant amounts of mercury vapors if the dentist doesn't know what he or she is doing. For this reason, it's important to find a qualified biological dentist, trained in the safe and proper removal of mercury fillings.

Biological dentistry views your teeth and gums as an integrated part of your entire body, and any medical treatments performed take this fact into account. Biological dentists are well aware of the dangers involved with toxic materials such as amalgams. Some of the things that need to be done to keep you (and your dentist) safe during amalgam removal include:

Providing you with an alternative air source and instructing you not to breathe through your mouth Putting a rubber dam in your mouth so you don't swallow or inhale any toxins, and using a high-volume evacuator near the tooth at all times to evacuate the mercury vapor
Using a cold-water spray to minimize mercury vapors Washing your mouth out immediately after the fillings have been removed (the dentist should also change gloves after the removal)
Immediately cleaning your protective wear and face once the fillings are removed Using room air purifiers

How to Find a Qualified Biological Dentist

Knowledgeable biological dentists can be hard to come by, so start your search by asking a friend, relative, neighbor, or inquire at your local health food store. The following links can also help you to find a mercury-free, biological dentist:

Take Action: Tell EPA You Support Its Mercury Amalgam Rule!

Why should we be forced to pay when irresponsible dentists who still use mercury could easily and relatively inexpensively install amalgam separators, which catch most of the mercury before it goes down the drain? Until the EPA's proposed rule is final, dentists are still getting away with environmental pollution, and it's high time for that to change. I urge you to take a stand with us and tell the EPA not to let polluting dentists off the hook: It's time to stop dental mercury dumping. Consumers for Dental Choice has created a petition demanding the EPA immediately stop this practice. I hope you will take a moment to sign this petition right now.

To learn more about dental mercury and its risks, as well as keep abreast of the latest news on the EPA's mercury rule, please see the following sources:

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