End of amalgam use is near

The end of the use of dental amalgam is fast approaching, a University of Otago dental academic says.

A new study from the University of Otago shows a significant reduction in the use of amalgam fillings at its dental school over the past 20 years.

The study, published in Operative Dentistry,

found the use of amalgam decreased from 52.3% of fillings in 1998 to 7.1% in 2017; a corresponding increase was observed in the use of tooth-coloured materials.

The study included data from a survey of New Zealand dental practitioners, which showed 64% considered composite resin to be their preferred filling material, while only 13% favoured amalgam.

The international Minamata Convention on Mercury had the potential to substantially affect the use of amalgam.

Once ratified by New Zealand, it would require the dental profession to take steps to reduce risk of population exposure to mercury.

Study lead author Jonathan Broadbent said despite there being no official policy on reducing the use of amalgam, the current rate of decline of its use suggested the Faculty of Dentistry could be amalgam-free in the next year or two.

"Mercury is an environmental hazard, so by extension dental amalgam is.

"Teeth with amalgam fillings in them are classified by the New Zealand Dental Council as hazardous waste," Dr Broadbent said.

“Amalgam has allowed people to keep teeth that otherwise could not have been saved, as it was the only real option available

... However, there are now filling materials that perform better, and which have the benefit of not containing mercury.”

This did not mean people should rush out and have their old fillings replaced, he said.


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