Mercury Poisoning

What about mercury in batteries?

Most batteries made in the U.S. do not contain added mercury. The two exceptions are mercuric oxide batteries and button cell batteries. Mercuric oxide batteries are produced for specialized use in military and medical equipment where a stable current and long service life is essential. Button cell batteries are miniature batteries in the shape of a coin or button that are used to provide power for a large variety of small portable electronic devices.

The use and disposal of mercury-added button cells are unregulated at the federal level.

  • They do not have to be labeled;
  • it is legal to dispose of them in the household trash; and
  • they rarely are collected for recycling in most U.S. jurisdictions.

Some states are now considering whether the disposal of button cell batteries should be regulated or whether recycling should be encouraged. Because button batteries currently are not widely targeted for recycling, almost all of this mercury presumably ends up in the municipal solid waste stream where it is either incinerated or landfilled.

For a more information on batteries, see EPA's Web page on Consumer and Commercial Products.

What about mercury in dental amalgam?

The silver fillings used by dentists to restore teeth are composed of a metal "amalgam" containing roughly 50% elemental mercury and 50% other metals (mostly silver with some tin and copper). Amalgam is one of the most commonly used tooth fillings, and is considered to be a safe, sound, and effective treatment for tooth decay. Amalgam has been the most widely used tooth filling material for decades. It remains popular because it is strong, lasting and low-cost. Dental amalgams are considered medical devices and are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Safety of Dental Amalgam Fillings

The mercury found in amalgam fillings has raised some safety concerns over the years. Amalgam can release small amounts of mercury vapor over time, and patients can absorb these vapors by inhaling or ingesting them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is little scientific evidence that the health of the vast majority of people with dental amalgam is compromised, nor that removing amalgam fillings has a beneficial effect on health. A 2004 review of the scientific literature conducted for the U.S. Public Health Service found "insufficient evidence of a link between dental mercury and health problems, except in rare instances of allergic reaction."

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consumer update on dental amalgam advises, as a precaution, that pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure should discuss dental treatment options with their health care practitioner. FDA, which regulates the use of dental amalgam, is reviewing the scientific evidence on the safe use of amalgam.

Alternatives to Dental Amalgam Fillings

Amalgam use is declining because the incidence of dental decay is decreasing and because improved substitute materials are now available for certain applications. If dental patients do not want to use mercury amalgam, there are several non-mercury restorative materials available. Presently, there are six types of restorative materials:

  1. mercury amalgam,
  2. resin composite,
  3. glass ionomer,
  4. resin ionomer,
  5. porcelain, and
  6. gold alloys.

Each type of restorative material has advantages and disadvantages. Some factors that influence the choice of restorative material used include: cost, strength, durability, location of cavity, and aesthetics.

The choice of dental treatment rests with dental professionals and their patients, so you should talk with your dentist about dental treatment options that are available. The American Dental Association provides a brochure for dental patients on the advantages and disadvantages of various types of dental fillings.

Environmental Releases of Mercury from Dental Amalgam Waste

Mercury from dental amalgam is a major source of controllable mercury released to the environment and likely will remain a significant concern into the future.

Mercury from dental amalgam is released to the environment through three primary pathways:

  1. in wastewater,
  2. as solid waste, and
  3. through cremation of bodies containing dental amalgam.

The majority of dental mercury amalgam is discharged from dental offices to wastewater treatment systems. For more information on environmental releases of mercury from dental amalgam, see EPA's mercury Web page on Consumer and Commercial Products.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/12/2016

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