Mercury and selenium concentrations in maternal and neonatal scalp hair: relationship to amalgam-based dental treatment received during pregnancy

Biol Trace Elem Res. 2001 Jul;81(1):1-19. doi: 10.1385/BTER:81:1:01.


Mercury and selenium concentrations were determined in scalp hair samples collected postpartum from 82 term pregnancy mothers and their neonates. Maternal mercury and selenium had median concentrations of 0.39 microg/g (range 0.1-2.13 microg/g) and 0.75 microg/g (range 0.1-3.95 microg/g), respectively, and corresponding median neonatal values were 0.24 microg/g (range 0.1-1.93 microg) and 0.52 microg/g (range (0.1-3.0 microg/g). Amalgam-based restorative dental treatment received during pregnancy by 27 mothers (Group I) was associated with significantly higher mercury concentrations in their neonates (p < 0.0001) compared to those born to 55 mothers (Group II) whose most recent history of such dental treatment was dated to periods ranging between 1 and 12 yr prior to pregnancy. In the Group I mother/neonate pairs, amalgam removal and replacement in 10 cases was associated with significantly higher mercury concentrations compared to 17 cases of new amalgam emplacement. Selenium concentrations showed no significant intergroup differences. However, the selenium/mercury molar ratio values were lowest in the Group I neonates, compared to their mothers and to the Group II mother/neonate pairs. This ratio decreased as mercury concentration increased, and this interrelation was statistically significant in both groups of mother/neonate pairs. The data from this preliminary study suggest that amalgam-based dental treatment during pregnancy is associated with higher prenatal exposure to mercury, particularly in cases of amalgam removal and replacement. The ability of a peripheral biological tissue, such as hair, to elicit such marked differences in neonatal mercury concentrations provides supporting evidence of high fetal susceptibility to this form of mercury exposure. The data are discussed in relation to the differences between maternal and fetal mercury metabolisms and to mercury-selenium metabolic intereactions in response to mercury exposure.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Dental Amalgam
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Mass Spectrometry / methods
  • Mercury / analysis*
  • Mothers*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Scalp*
  • Selenium / chemistry*
  • Smoking


  • Dental Amalgam
  • Mercury
  • Selenium