A dental amalgam, or “silver filling,” is a material used to fill cavities. It is a combination of metals, elemental mercury, and a powdered alloy from silver, tin, and copper.
Fifty percent of the material is composed of elemental mercury. It allows the substance to react with and bind the metal particles together to form an amalgam.
Dental professionals are at risk of mercury exposure when working with amalgam. The World Health Organization states that elemental mercury is toxic to the peripheral nervous and central systems.
Amalgam can also cause harm to the environment. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published guidelines on reducing mercury discharge from dental offices. The regulation mandates dental offices to install amalgam separators.
What is an Amalgam Separator?
An amalgam separator catches amalgam particles from dental office wastewater. The device is effective for waste management, as mercury fragments captured in the separator are recyclable.
Different Types of Amalgam Separators
Amalgam separators are classified based on their specific functions.
- Sedimentation units use gravity to remove dissolved amalgam particles by allowing them to float out of the wastewater.
- Filtration units remove colloidal amalgam matter, as well as finer and grainier debris. Their capacity to separate the fragments from the water depends on the specific solvent used.
- Centrifuge units use centrifugal force to withdraw amalgam fragments from the wastewater.
- Combination units utilize two or more methods to remove the tiniest bits of amalgam and suspended mercury.
Factors to Consider when Choosing Amalgam Separators
Investing in an amalgam separator can be expensive. It can cost around $800 to $900, with an installation fee of $250 to $300. Its operational cost per year is about $500. It is imperative to take care of the unit well, to maintain top performance.
In addition, interruptions during the procedure can happen. The separator may lose power because its container is full. No one wants that. Therefore, to avoid sudden breakdowns, here are some tips for choosing and maintaining an amalgam separator:
- Before purchasing any unit, assign someone to operate and maintain the unit. Someone from your clinic must be trained to do this. Another option is to hire a third-party supplier for the job.
- Choose a product with an advanced warning signal feature that indicates when the container needs to be changed or if the unit is defective.
- Limit the biological build-up within the system by replacing or recycling the unit every three to 18 months. This step will ensure that the separator will operate smoothly.
- Do not use bleach or other liquids with chlorine to clean the lines. According to the American Dental Association, these substances react to mercury within the system, resulting in contamination within the waste stream. As a result, the efficacy of the separator is compromised.
- Assess the cost of replacement parts. Ask the vendor how often the device needs replacement. This may depend on the practice’s regular workload and the number of amalgam restorations made.
The Bottom Line
Amalgam is a common material used in dentistry to fill up the tooth cavity. It is more versatile and cost-efficient than other materials available. However, its mercury content raises concern on the safety of the people exposed to it. Amalgam is also dangerous to the environment once released to the wastewater, hence the need for a separator.
The best type of amalgam separator would be fully dependent on the practice’s daily load. Proper maintenance of the machine ensures safety, both for the dentist and the environment.