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Occup Environ Med 59:287-293 doi:10.1136/oem.59.5.287
  • Original article

Health and neuropsychological functioning of dentists exposed to mercury

  1. K A Ritchie1,
  2. W H Gilmour2,
  3. E B Macdonald2,
  4. F J T Burke3,
  5. D A McGowan4,
  6. I M Dale5,
  7. R Hammersley6,
  8. R M Hamilton2,
  9. V Binnie4,
  10. D Collington4
  1. 1Institute of Hearing Research (Scottish Section), Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
  2. 2Department of Public Health, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
  3. 3School of Dentistry, University of Birmingham, UK
  4. 4Glasgow Dental Hospital and School
  5. 5Glasgow Occupational Health
  6. 6Health and Social Services Institute, University of Essex, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr K A Ritchie, MRC Institute of Hearing Research (Scottish Section), Queen Elizabeth Building, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Glasgow G31 2ER, Scotland, UK;
 karen{at}ihr.gla.ac.uk
  • Accepted 17 October 2001

Abstract

Objectives: A cross sectional survey of dentists in the west of Scotland and unmatched controls was conducted to find the effect of chronic exposure to mercury on health and cognitive functioning.

Methods: 180 dentists were asked to complete a questionnaire that included items on handling of amalgam, symptoms experienced, possible influences on psychomotor function, and the 12 item general health questionnaire. Dentists were asked to complete a dental chart of their own mouths and to give samples of urine, hair, and nails for mercury analysis. Environmental measurements of mercury in dentists' surgeries were made and participants undertook a package of computerised psychomotor tests. 180 control subjects underwent a similar procedure, completing a questionnaire, having their amalgam surfaces counted, giving urine, hair, and nail samples and undergoing the psychomotor test package.

Results: Dentists had, on average, urinary mercury concentrations over four times that of control subjects, but all but one dentist had urinary mercury below the Health and Safety Executive health guidance value. Dentists were significantly more likely than control subjects to have had disorders of the kidney and memory disturbance. These symptoms were not significantly associated with urinary mercury concentration. Differences were found between the psychomotor performance of dentists and controls after adjusting for age and sex, but there was no significant association between changes in psychomotor response and mercury concentrations in urine, hair, or nails.

Conclusions: Several differences in health and cognitive functioning between dentists and controls were found. These differences could not be directly attributed to their exposure to mercury. However, as similar health effects are known to be associated with mercury exposure, it would be appropriate to consider a system of health surveillance of dental staff with particular emphasis on symptoms associated with mercury toxicity where there is evidence of high levels of exposure to environmental mercury.

Footnotes