Amalgam Filling History, Amalgam Separators in Dentistry & New EPA Regulations

December 5, 2017

Amalgam fillings have been a tried and true method for restoring a patient’s decaying teeth for more than 150 years and are in hundreds of millions of mouths.  It is estimated that more than 1 billion amalgam fillings are placed every year and that they last between 10 and 20 years. Amalgam fillings have been proven to be safe while in a solid state in the mouth, however, removing amalgam fillings is a different issue and one that the EPA has decided to weigh in on.
Did you know that hundreds of thousands of amalgam fillings are removed every year and when an amalgam filling is removed, the mercury in the amalgam becomes ‘active’ and toxic? It’s true - and even tiny amounts of this mercury are harmful to the human body, especially to the nervous system. In addition, these same harmful toxins are entering our waystreams and environment and eventually getting into the food we eat.

This has caused the EPA to get involved by regulating the safe removal of amalgam filling waste in dental procedures.  In 2020, every dental practice will be required to use an amalgam separator and have a recycling program in place to deal with the active mercury that is collected. No longer will dentists be allowed to ignore this issue and flush the problem down the drain.

Do dental offices contribute to mercury in the environment?

You bet they do. As a matter of fact, dental offices are a major contributor to the presence of mercury in the environment.  And it turns out, mercury has proven difficult to handle as a pollutant and most public wastewater treatment facilities are not equipped to process it because it’s heavy, and sinks to the bottom of treatment pools and also coats the insides of pipes. 

The EPA Dental Rule  - Also Known As “The Dental Effluent Guidelines”

New governmental regulations now require that all dentists comply with a system designed to stop mercury from leaving the dental office and entering the environment. These systems are called amalgam separators and use various technology to capture the harmful mercury and collect it, such as filtration and ion exchange technology. Amalgam separators are easy to install, are good for the practice and the environment. When the amalgam separator collection container becomes full, it can be shipped to a mercury recycling facility for safe disposal.

As of July 14, 2017, dental regulation was passed requiring all dental practices nationwide to install an amalgam separator (some dental practices exempt).  Now is the time to research amalgam separation best practices and plan for a cleaner, mercury free future.