• Open Access

Neuropsychological function and past exposure to metallic mercury in female dental workers

Authors


Bjørn Hilt, Department of Occupational Medicine, St. Olavs University Hospital, Olav Kyrres gate, N-7006 Trondheim, Norway. Tel: +47 72571407 / +47 90069490; fax: +4772571347; e-mail: bjorn.hilt@stolav.no

Abstract

Sletvold, H., Svendsen, K., Aas, O., Syversen, T. & Hilt, B. (2012). Neuropsychological function and past exposure to metallic mercury in female dental workers. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 53, 136–143.

The aim of this study was to see if dental personnel with previous exposure to metallic mercury have later developed disturbances in cognitive function. Ninety-one female participants who had been selected from a previous health survey of dental personnel were investigated neuropsychologically within the following domains: motor function, short-term memory, working memory, executive function, mental flexibility, and visual and verbal long-term memory. The scores were mainly within normal ranges. Relationships between an exposure score, the duration of employment before 1990, and previously measured mercury in urine as independent variables and the neuropsychological findings as dependent variables, were analyzed by multiple linear regression controlling for age, general ability, length of education, alcohol consumption, and previous head injuries. The only relationship that was statistically significant in the hypothesized direction was between the previously measured urine mercury values and visual long-term memory, where the urine values explained 30% of the variability. As the study had a low statistical power and also some other methodological limitations, the results have to be interpreted with caution. Even so, we think it is right to conclude that neuropsychological findings indicative of subsequent cognitive injuries are difficult to find in groups of otherwise healthy dental personnel with previous occupational exposure to mercury.

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