The use of mercury in dental fillings is to be phased out, starting from next month.
The move is part of the Government's adherence to the Minamata Convention, a United Nations agreement dating from 2013. It aims to protect human health and the environment by reducing, or eliminating altogether, the use of the chemical element, mercury. Restrictions to dental use of mercury will come into force on July 1st.
These include dentists ceasing to use mercury in fillings, a common practice in earlier years, to which older people with silver-coloured fillings can attest. In more recent decades, however, most dentists (and their patients) have opted for white-coloured, non-mercury based fillings that are less visually obvious.
Mercury is the only liquid metal and, while safe when used in dentistry, has been associated with incidents of poisoning, as in the Bay of Minamata in Japan where, in the 1950s and 1960s, a disfiguring disease was identified to be associated with industrial-scale mercury poisoning.
As part of a European Union regulation implementing the convention on a phased basis from July 1st, dentists will no longer use dental amalgam, a constituent part of silver-coloured fillings, in teeth of children under the age of 15, or of pregnant or breastfeeding women.
People who already have mercury-based fillings are advised to do nothing.
While the compound was "a safe, reliable and durable filling material, and has been used successfully for over 100 years", the Health Service Executive confirmed yesterday that use was being phased out.
"Initially, this will involve restricting the use of dental amalgam in children under 15 years, and pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, dentists in Ireland can still use dental amalgam when deemed strictly necessary by the dental practitioner based on the specific medical needs of the patient," the HSE said in a statement.
Guidance would be issued shortly by the Dental Council, following which the HSE would issue its own guidelines.
A spokesman for the Dental Association of Ireland (IDA) said a media briefing would be held next week to help publicise the change.
“The new regulations on the use of amalgam are being brought in primarily for environmental reasons with the aim of reducing the amount of mercury in the environment. Many people will have amalgam fillings which continue to work very well. Their removal is to be avoided because it usually leads to the creation of a larger cavity.
“The IDA will hold a briefing on Thursday at the Hibernian Club, St Stephen’s Green, Dublin at 11.30am where dental experts will explain the effects of the Minamata Convention on dental treatment in the future.”