General Question

radcliff's avatar

What source and strength of radioactivity could cause mercury dental fillings to become radioactive?

Asked by radcliff (253points) May 26th, 2012

If this phenomena could happen to someone, what could it do to the brain and body?
I hope my question is simple enough to understand.

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4 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

In general, things don’t “become” radioactive simply by being exposed to radioactivity. (I hate to say “never”, because I don’t know if an incredibly large radioactive burst could ionize some other materials. But I suspect that no one on Earth would survive THAT radioactive burst, anyway. Even if they were somewhere in Earth’s orbit when it occurred.)

Unless they’re made with radioactive materials to begin with, I don’t think it is possible for dental fillings to become radioactive from exposure to (survivable) ionizing radiation.

PhiNotPi's avatar

It would be possible for the mercury to become radioactive when exposed to large amounts of alpha and neutron radiation. Radioactivity is caused when an atom has an unstable combination of neutrons and protons in the nucleus. In order to make an atom that was previously stable into a radioactive isotope, you would have to change the number of neutrons and protons in the nucleus. The two main types of radiation that can do this are alpha and neutron radiation.

The radioactive atoms themselves are not very dangerous, it is the ionizing radiation that is dangerous. If you shoot sufficient alpha and neutron radiation into the dental fillings, they may become radioactive, but it would be the initial beam that would kill you, not the dental fillings.

cazzie's avatar

They used radio active mercury in tests to see if mercury spread around he body in mammals. I think it was a Canadian study. They put these fillings in sheep and then monkeys. The radio active mercury made it easy to trace. I’ll see if I can find the study… hang on…

That may not be exactly what you meant, but I can’t add to the answers above, but your question made me think of this.

gary4books's avatar

A nuclear explosion could do the job. But that would be one of the least of your concerns if that happened. Perhaps exposure to a reactor could do the transformation, but I can not imagine how.

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