Oral health: Watch out for the mercury in your mouth

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers mercury as one of the top 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.

By Zee Media Bureau | Last Updated: Apr 24, 2017, 09:05 AM IST
Oral health: Watch out for the mercury in your mouth

Anu Agarwal

New Delhi: In our fast paced lives and drastic changes in our eating habits, we often tend to ignore our dental health, especially that of our child’s. Research articles on the issue have found that India’s school going population is recording a high number of dental caries. On an average 50-75% of school going children in India have reported cavities.

But, as parents do we ask the doctor what is being filled in our child’s mouth? The doctor is the best judge, and surely they are. But as consumers, it is also our responsibility to ask the right questions and be informed about the dental filling used in our teeth.

 

Recently, the European Parliament banned the use of mercury amalgam in the susceptible/ vulnerable population. This group includes children under the age of 12 and pregnant or nursing women. In India too, the Ministry of Health might contemplate such a move for the sake of our children’s health, as their growing brains are prone to the detrimental effects of mercury.

India signed the Minamata Convention for mercury pollution prevention in 2014. Mercury is used in various sectors, and dentistry is one of its largest users. Dental amalgams are 50% mercury. So, when a mercury filling is put in your mouth, almost the same amount of mercury gets wasted, which eventually finds way into our environment and the food chain. This could have serious consequences on human health and environment as mercury stays in the environment for long periods of time.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers mercury as one of the top 10 chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern.

Though many dental practitioners feel that mercury is the hardest dental filling material available, another set of dentists lobbying against mercury fillings are of the opinion that – the tooth preparation for mercury fillings lead to loss of tooth structure in comparison to alternatives. Expansion of mercury can also lead to cracking of restored teeth.

Mercury fillings are cheaper than non-mercury fillings in India because dentists do not have to pay for the environmental release of mercury. If dentists have to adopt Best Management Practices (BMPs) to avoid mercury release into the environment, the cost of fillings might double.

Besides the environmental impact of mercury, many studies have showed that a single amalgam filling on an average may release as much as 10 micrograms of mercury per day. According to WHO, exposure to mercury – even small amounts – may cause serious health problems, and is a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life. Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.

The world is changing and its time we change too. So next time you visit a dentist, do not forget to ask for mercury free alternatives.

(Anu Agarwal is a Consultant at Toxics Link)