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J Can Dent Assoc. 1997 May;63(5):372-6.

Occupational exposure to mercury in dentistry and dentist mortality.

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  • 1Department of Restorative Dentistry, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Toronto, ON.


In response to public concern, Health Canada recently conducted a review of amalgam safety and released a position statement entitled The Safety of Dental Amalgam. Essentially, the department has concluded that the levels of mercury absorbed by the body due to the release of mercury vapor from amalgam restorations, while detectable, do not approach those recognized to cause illness. It has therefore confirmed that amalgam restorations can be used safely in most patients, with some notable caveats. Despite Health Canada's position statement in support of amalgam, patient doubts about amalgam safety remain, including the tenuous hypothesized link between amalgam restorations and specific diseases. This article reviews the available studies of dentist mortality to identify possible links between mercury exposure and negative health effects. A lack of evidence to suggest a detrimental health outcome in dentists who are occupationally exposed to higher levels of mercury than their patients, and are known to have higher levels of mercury in their blood, provides an important reassurance concerning the safety of amalgam. The reviewed data indicates that the 10 leading causes of death in the United States and Canada are the same for both dentist and non dentist population groups, and that the percentage of deaths by the same cause are remarkably similar. By 1975, the year of the most recent U.S. study, the average age at death for white male dentists was about three years higher than for all adult white males. Although suicide standard mortality rates are known to be higher for dentists, suicide deaths have also been shown to be a factor in many other occupations, particularly those where there is easy access to drugs. Although updated actuarial data for dentist mortality are needed, the available data indicate no reduction in the life expectancy of practising dentists, nor any specific or disproportionate rates of disease associated with high mercury exposure. In fact, the available mortality studies are generally optimistic about the health of dentists, which should reassure patients about the safety of dental amalgam.

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