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How to choose the best dental amalgam separator

How to choose the best dental amalgam separator

Less than a year from today, Environmental Protection Agency regulations requiring the separating and recycling of dental amalgam go into effect. This means your dental practice, if it has not already, needs to install and begin using an amalgam separator.

If you are working to come into compliance with the EPA’s regulations, then you have come to the right place. Dental amalgam has been a hot topic in the industry for years now, but many dental practices are working to better understand the equipment needed to properly separate and recycle the material.

Let’s take a look at why you need to know how to select the best amalgam separator for your office.

What is dental amalgam?

Amalgam has been in use in dental practice for more than 150 years. In fact, the only material that has been used for dental purposes longer than amalgam is gold.

Amalgam is a mixture of virtually equal parts elemental liquid mercury and an alloy power that is made up of silver, tin and copper, as well as sometimes smaller quantities of zinc, palladium and indium.

Why do dentists use amalgam?

Dental amalgam is a very common material that many dentists use for tooth filling. Both the American Dental Association and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consider the use of amalgam safe for its treatment purposes.

Amalgam can be used in patients of all ages and on a wide range of teeth in need of repair for a variety of reasons.

It is also very effective at accomplishing the desired purposes with ample benefits. Amalgam is durable, generally easy to apply, holds up well long-term, does not take long to apply, costs less than other materials (for both dentists and patients) and properly seals and protects teeth from further decay.

Amalgam is completely safe for patients

Because amalgam contains mercury, there are often questions as to whether it is safe to use for tooth fillings. A lot of research and study has gone into examining these questions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and several other government agencies have long been looking into these studies to determine whether amalgam is safe or if it causes health problems.

What all this examination has discovered is that dental amalgam is safe. According to the EPA, in 2001 the CDC reported that there is little evidence that dental amalgam could negatively affect the health of people with amalgam fillings or that removing dental amalgam fillings could improve a patient’s health.

According to the FDA, a small amount of mercury vapor can be released when amalgam fillings are either placed or removed. Small amounts of mercury vapor can also be released when chewing, too. These vapors can be absorbed by people when they inhale or ingest them. Still, these small amounts are not enough to be harmful.

In fact, the FDA says dental amalgam in fillings is safe for adults and children older than six.

How amalgam is separated from dental waste

Although the amount of mercury in dental amalgam that a single person could ever be exposed to has been shown to be of no concern, dental offices are required to separate dental amalgam from their office’s wastewater so that large amounts are not allowed to enter municipal water systems.

In large amounts, mercury - a toxic material - can have many adverse effects on people once it enters the environment, including water sources.

That is why it is critically important that dental practices follow all recommended best practices in removing dental amalgam from the waste their offices generate. To do this, offices need to invest in proper amalgam separator equipment.

Amalgam separators remove the amalgam particles from the wastewater that goes down drains throughout the office, preventing the material from entering sewer systems. These separators get the job done through several different types of methods, including ion exchange technology, sedimentation, filtration, centrifugation or a combination of methods.

Finding amalgam separators for your dental practice

Amalgam separators are easy for dental practices to get ahold of and have installed in their offices. As the EPA states, separators are practical, affordable and easy to find. They allow for the easy recycling of mercury.

However, there are different types of amalgam separators. Dental practices should know the differences to find which type is preferable for their practice.

The first step is finding an equipment provider. If that provider also offers amalgam recycling management services with a reliable, steady recycling schedule, then that is even better. Once your practice has decided on a service provider, then you can begin to discuss with them which types of separators could fit best in your office layout.

How to choose amalgam separators for your practice

Amalgam separators differ in several key ways. They can offer different capacity levels, physical dimensions, service schedules, purchase costs and operation costs. Which type of amalgam separators your dental practice purchases will depend on your specific needs.

The Wisconsin Dental Association (WDA) has put together a valuable resource for making decision on what type of separator equipment is best for your practice.

First, the WDA, recommend answering a series of questions. Those include:

  • Are any of the amalgam-generating chairs in the facility centrally plumbed?
  • Does the facility have a wet ring or dry vacuum pump system?
  • Is there enough space for a separator unit to be installed at or below office grade?
  • Does the separator need to be installed ahead of or after the wet ring or dry vacuum pump systems?

Answer those questions, and you or your equipment provider should have a clearer picture of what separators will or won’t work.

After answering those questions, consider other characteristics that differentiate separators and could influence the decision, i.e. cost, included recycling program, maintenance needs, capacity needs, size of separator, etc.

Find a complete amalgam recycling solution

There are several dental waste management service providers that offer some sort of solution for recycling amalgam. Consider doing your research and locating a provider who not only can provide the equipment needed, but also handles waste management and recycling programs, plus offers a wide range of other services.

DRNA is trusted by many in the dental practice community as their complete regulatory solution. Contact us today if you would like to learn more about our dental amalgam separators and the many other services that make DRNA a leader in dental waste management.