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The American Dental Association (ADA) has updated its best management practices for the disposal of dental amalgam waste to include the use of separators, collection devices installed in dental office plumbing to capture and remove at least 95 percent of solid waste particles before they enter the sewer system. The use of separators will allow greater recycling and reduce the amount of amalgam, which contains mercury, entering wastewater treatment plants.
"Dentists across the country have enthusiastically embraced ADA best management practices since we introduced them in 2003, which clearly demonstrates that voluntary programs work," said ADA President Mark J. Feldman, DMD. "Since then, we have gained a lot of experience with separator technology, and even assisted the ISO (an international standard-setting organization) in developing standards for the devices. We have learned that the systems work well, and we now feel comfortable including them in our best management practice recommendations."
Dental amalgam is a silver-colored alloy made from mercury, silver, copper and tin that dentists have used for generations to fill decayed teeth. Once the most commonly used filling material, it has been surpassed in popularity by tooth-colored composites. It nevertheless remains a safe and valued treatment option for some patients, particularly those needing large fillings in back teeth or who have special needs.
Dental offices using ADA best management practices already capture about 80 percent of waste amalgam. Adding separators to that regimen would increase the amount of captured amalgam to at least 95 percent. The additional amalgam captured by the separator would otherwise have been captured downstream by the municipal wastewater treatment plant. However, treatment plant waste is often incinerated; amalgam captured by separators can be recycled.
"Like most people, dentists are committed to protecting the environment," said ADA Executive Director Jim Bramson, DDS. "By adding separators to their best management practices, dentists have much greater control in their efforts to ensure a healthier environment for everyone."