Dental personnel are exposed to mercury when using dental amalgam. This exposure constitutes a potential hazard to offspring of women working in dentistry. The present study examined increased mortality risk in offspring of mothers working in dentistry.
Mortality was compared between sons of dental personnel and sons of nondental health-care personnel. Hazard ratios were calculated for three decades (1960s-1980s), when the magnitude of mercury exposure in dentistry was likely to have varied.
During the 1960s, there was a statistically significant increase in the risk of neonatal mortality for sons of dental nurses when compared with sons of assistant nurses: hazard ratio (HR) 1.82 (95% confidence interval, CI: 1.04-3.22). There was no increased risk in the subsequent decades, but a trend test demonstrated a consistent decrease in the risk over the three decades: HR for trend 0.63 (95% CI: 0.44-0.90). The raised mortality risk was limited to neonatal mortality. The comparison between dentists and physicians had insufficient statistical power.
There is no increased mortality risk among sons of female dentists after the 1960s. Although the results should be interpreted with caution, they suggest a modestly raised risk of neonatal mortality, during the 1960s, when exposure to mercury was thought to be highest.