While 50% of US dentists choose tooth-colored fillings in place of “silver” amalgam fillings to help patients achieve a natural looking smile, many don’t consider what happens to old amalgam fillings after they are removed. The reason for concern: amalgam fillings are 50% mercury by weight, and, according to the EPA, wildlife is imperiled by exposure to mercury, suffering effects from endocrine disruption to death. When we humans eat fish contaminated by mercury, our health suffers.
The EPA tells us that half of the mercury entering local waste water treatment plants comes from dental offices-about 3.7 tons of it each year-making dental offices the number one contributor of mercury waste to local water treatment plants. Some waste sludge is used as agricultural fertilizer, so there is a risk that that dental office mercury waste can end up in our food.
All of this could be eliminated if every dental office installed a simple, low-cost piece of equipment: An amalgam separator. This device, attached to the vacuum system in the mechanical closet, captures up to 99% of mercury waste before it leaves the dental office. Once captured, the waste is sent to special recycling facilities for safe reuse and disposal.
Despite longstanding efforts to encourage dental offices to voluntarily install these amalgam separators, only about 30,000 of the 125,000 US dental offices use them. As such, the EPA has signaled that it will soon require all U.S. dental offices to install these devices.
As consumers of dental services, we have the power to persuade dentists to make this change now and to applaud those that are protecting the environment by using an amalgam separator. If you’re looking for a new dentist that is committed to being eco-friendly, start by searching our on-line member directory. If you already have a dentist you love, let them know it is important to you that they appropriately manage their mercury waste. Consider sending your dentist our “Green My Dentist” letter and make your voice heard.
Together, we can protect our water, food and wildlife from mercury pollution while keeping our smiles natural-looking and bright.