Particulate inhalation during the removal of amalgam restorations

J Prosthet Dent. 1990 Feb;63(2):228-33. doi: 10.1016/0022-3913(90)90110-x.


An aerosol that contains amalgam particles is created when a high-speed hand-piece is used to remove an existing amalgam restoration. Those particles smaller than 10 microns are considered to be fully respirable. This means that a significant percentage of the particles have the potential to travel to the terminal alveoli, where they may become lodged. Long-term exposure to fully respirable particles may compromise a person's respiratory function. Amalgam restorations were placed in the typodont teeth of a mannequin designed to simulate the head and the respiratory tract of a patient. The amalgam restorations were removed under three experimental conditions: dry cut (control), wet cut (water spray) with high-velocity evacuation, and wet cut with high-velocity evacuation and a rubber dam. Particulate exposure was evaluated in the simulated respiratory tracts of the patient and the dentist that were equipped with ambient particle sizing samplers. Use of water spray and high-velocity evacuation significantly reduced patient exposure to particles. The use of a rubber dam, together with water spray and high-velocity evacuation, was responsible for a further significant reduction of exposure to particles when compared with water spray and high-velocity evacuation alone. The dentist, however, was exposed to moderate levels of fully respirable particles for all conditions tested. It is therefore recommended that all dental personnel wear face masks while removing existing amalgam restorations.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Dental Amalgam / adverse effects*
  • Dental Cavity Preparation / adverse effects*
  • Dental High-Speed Technique / adverse effects
  • Dental Restoration, Permanent / adverse effects
  • Dentists
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Humans
  • Inhalation
  • Masks
  • Mercury / analysis
  • Particle Size


  • Aerosols
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Dental Amalgam
  • Mercury