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new study on the surface chemistry of silver-colored, mercury-based
dental fillings suggests that the surface forms of mercury may be less
toxic than previously thought. It appears online in ACS’ journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.
the study, Graham George and colleagues note that mercury-based
fillings, also called amalgams, have been used by dentists to repair
teeth for well-over a century. In recent decades their use has become
controversial because of concerns about exposure to potentially toxic
mercury. However, mercury can potentially exist in several different
chemical forms, each with a different toxicity. Prior to this report,
little was known about how the chemical forms of mercury in dental
amalgam might change over time.
a special X-ray technique, the scientists analyzed the surface of
freshly prepared metal fillings and compared these with the surface of
aged fillings (about 20 years old) from a dental clinic. Fresh fillings
contained metallic mercury, which can be toxic. Aged fillings, however,
typically contain a form of mercury, called beta-mercuric sulfide or
metacinnabar, which is unlikely to be toxic in the body. The scientists
found that the surfaces of metal fillings seem to lose up to 95 percent
of their mercury over time. Loss of potentially toxic mercury from
amalgam may be due to evaporation, exposure to some kinds of dental
hygiene products, exposure to certain foods, or other factors. The
scientists caution that "human exposure to mercury lost from fillings
is still of concern."
-- News release courtesy of American Chemical Society
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