One reason often given to justify the continued use of mercury in dental fillings is that it’s cheaper to place than composite – which is true if you just look at the price tag and ignore external costs.
A cost or benefit not transmitted through prices that is incurred by a party who did not agree to the action causing the cost or benefit. The cost of an externality is a negative externality, or external cost, while the benefit of an externality is a positive externality, or external benefit.
In the case of both negative and positive externalities, prices in a competitive market do not reflect the full costs or benefits of producing or consuming a product or service. Also, producers and consumers may neither bear all of the costs nor reap all of the benefits of the economic activity, and too much or too little of the goods will be produced or consumed in terms of overall costs and benefits to society. For example, manufacturing that causes air pollution imposes costs on the whole society, while fire-proofing a home improves the fire safety of neighbors.
So what’s the real cost of mercury fillings?
- Average cost of a “silver” mercury amalgam filling placed in a molar: $144
- Average cost of a composite resin “white” filling: $185
- Estimated cost of a mercury filling once you account for measures needed to keep mercury from being released into the environment: $185 – 211
- Estimated cost once you account for benefits to health and society by using nontoxic alternatives: $204 – 272
Clearly, adverse effects on the environment and society over the whole life cycle of dental amalgam–mercury production, preparation of filling materials, removal of old fillings and placement of new ones, environmental and health impacts from mercury recycling, discharges to wastewater, solid waste disposal, emissions from crematoria and releases from cemeteries – can only be sustainably avoided by phasing out amalgam as a dental restorative material and switching to mercury-free alternatives. Since high quality and cost-effective alternatives – including composites, glass ionomers and “compomers” – are readily available, this report therefore concludes, from a full cost perspective, that dental amalgam should be phased out.
Source: The Real Cost of Dental Mercury