Background: Mercury amalgam dental restorations have been used by dentists since the mid 19th century and issues on safety continue to be periodically debated within the scientific and public health communities. Previous studies have reported a positive association between urine mercury levels and the number of dental amalgams, but this relation has never been described in a nationally representative sample in the United States.
Aims and Methods: Using household interview, dietary interview, dental examination, and laboratory data from the 1999–2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the association between mercury concentrations and dental restorations was examined in US women of reproductive age.
Results: In women of childbearing age, approximately 13% of all posterior dental surfaces were restored with amalgams and the average urinary mercury level in women was low (1.34 μg/l). It is estimated that an increase of 1.8 μg/l in the log transformed values for mercury in urine would occur for each 10 dental surfaces restored with amalgam.
Conclusions: Although the findings do not address the important issues of adverse health effects at low thresholds of mercury exposure, they do provide important reference data that should contribute significantly to the ongoing scientific and public health policy debate on the use of dental amalgams in the USA.
- 1999–2000 NHANES, 1999–2000 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
- IHg, inorganic mercury
- MeHg, methylmercury
- urinary mercury
- inorganic mercury
- dental restorations
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Competing interests: none
Ethics statement: All study participants gave informed consent in accordance with the Institutional Review Board and study ethic guidelines at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The authors were bona fida officers or employees of the US Government at the time the manuscript was prepared, the manuscript is a “United States Government Work” as described in the US Copyright Act, and the manuscript was written as part of the author’s official duties as a US Government employee. As such, the manuscript is not subject to copyright protection.
As federal employees of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we are following the mission of the National Center for Health Statistics to collect, analyse, and release information of public health importance. Other US government or research agencies often use this information to initiate the next step forward towards proposing or implementing policy recommendations. Consequently, we believe that it is not appropriate for us to detail potential policy implications or make policy recommendations in this paper.