There is significant public concern about the potential health effects of exposure to mercury vapour (Hg0) released from dental amalgam restorations. The purpose of this article is to provide information about the toxicokinetics of Hg0, evaluate the findings from the recent scientific and medical literature, and identify research gaps that when filled may definitively support or refute the hypothesis that dental amalgam causes adverse health effects. Dental amalgam is a widely used restorative dental material that was introduced over 150 years ago. Most standard dental amalgam formulations contain approximately 50% elemental mercury. Experimental evidence consistently demonstrates that Hg0 is released from dental amalgam restorations and is absorbed by the human body. Numerous studies report positive correlations between the number of dental amalgam restorations or surfaces and urine mercury concentrations in non-occupationally exposed individuals. Although of public concern, it is currently unclear what adverse health effects are caused by the levels of Hg0 released from this restoration material. Historically, studies of occupationally exposed individuals have provided consistent information about the relationship between exposure to Hg0 and adverse effects reflecting both nervous system and renal dysfunction. Workers are usually exposed to substantially higher Hg0 levels than individuals with dental amalgam restorations and are typically exposed 8 hours per day for 20-30 years, whereas persons with dental amalgam restorations are exposed 24 hours per day over some portion of a lifetime. This review has uncovered no convincing evidence pointing to any adverse health effects that are attributable to dental amalgam restorations besides hypersensitivity in some individuals.
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