The Real Cost of Dental Mercury
Concorde East/West Spri – May 2012
While its use has essentially been eliminated in many countries, dental amalgam is now being considered for a global phase-out in the ongoing mercury treaty negotiations and in the European Union (BIO 2012) because of significant environmental concerns. The negative effects of mercury releases related to amalgam use are widely recognized in countries where its use has been prevalent: it is often the largest source of mercury in municipal wastewater as well as an increasing source of mercury air pollution from crematoria. On the other hand, high-quality mercury-free alternatives have long been available. While most dental professionals charge lower prices for amalgam fillings than for mercury-free alternatives, this paper shows that when factoring in “external” environmental and societal costs, amalgam is a higher-priced dental material by far (Hylander and Goodsite 2006). Ultimately, society pays for mercury releases related to amalgam use through additional pollution control costs, the loss of common (public-owned) resources, and the health effects associated with mercury releases and contamination (MPP 2008).
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the use of mercury in tooth fillings represents some 10% of global mercury consumption, thus being among the largest consumer uses of mercury in the world (AMAP/UNEP 2008). In the U.S., as demonstrated in this report, mercury use in dentistry amounts to over 32 tons annually, which is considerably more than some recent estimates. For comparison, in the European Union dental applications comprise the second largest use of mercury, amounting to some 20-25% of the annual consumption of mercury in the EU. With something less than twice the population of the U.S., the EU use of mercury in dentistry is somewhat more than twice the U.S. consumption (BIO 2012).