Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology

Maternal-fetal distribution of mercury (203Hg) released from dental amalgam fillings

M. J. Vimy, Y. Takahashi, F. L. Lorscheider


In humans, the continuous release of Hg vapor from dental amalgam tooth restorations is markedly increased for prolonged periods after chewing. The present study establishes a time-course distribution for amalgam Hg in body tissues of adult and fetal sheep. Under general anesthesia, five pregnant ewes had twelve occlusal amalgam fillings containing radioactive 203Hg placed in teeth at 112 days gestation. Blood, amniotic fluid, feces, and urine specimens were collected at 1- to 3-day intervals for 16 days. From days 16-140 after amalgam placement (16-41 days for fetal lambs), tissue specimens were analyzed for radioactivity, and total Hg concentrations were calculated. Results demonstrate that Hg from dental amalgam will appear in maternal and fetal blood and amniotic fluid within 2 days after placement of amalgam tooth restorations. Excretion of some of this Hg will also commence within 2 days. All tissues examined displayed Hg accumulation. Highest concentrations of Hg from amalgam in the adult occurred in kidney and liver, whereas in the fetus the highest amalgam Hg concentrations appeared in liver and pituitary gland. The placenta progressively concentrated Hg as gestation advanced to term, and milk concentration of amalgam Hg postpartum provides a potential source of Hg exposure to the newborn. It is concluded that accumulation of amalgam Hg progresses in maternal and fetal tissues to a steady state with advancing gestation and is maintained. Dental amalgam usage as a tooth restorative material in pregnant women and children should be reconsidered.