The recent proposed ban on mercury has industrialists worrying and trying their darndest to figure out new ways to carry on with their particular industry, and the scampering is especially hard amongst dental industrialists. This is because dentists and dental technicians use more mercury than almost all other industries, bar a few (metallurgy comes to mind). In some cases, the mercury used can be replaced with other metals or their alloys, and sometimes it cannot. The question is, will orthodontics be affected?
Mercury In Orthodontics
Mercury is used to make the titanium alloy that certain braces use. They are present only in trace amounts, and whether or not they can be replaced depends on how you look at the question.
Yes the titanium alloys may be affected. They will not be the same without that trace amount of mercury. There will be other alloys that work just as well. However, newer models of brace are not made out of metal at all to begin with.
They are made of titanium free surgical plastic that is durable and bends every which way, and contain no mercury. The problem is that right now only certain problems can be fixed with aligners and plastic-based orthodontry. Ceramics are a good replacement for brackets, and the leading aesthetic braces of all major orthodontic systems already use ceramic brackets, but what about the archwire? In certain cases, a flexible metal archwire is the most important thing in the treatment, and is possibly the only course of treatment at all.
The problem is that mercury is an extremely unique metal. It is the only known metal that stays in its liquid form at room temperature, and this makes it extremely easy to work with, and very easy to handle, something that all industrialists covet as this means easier facilities and less expenditures. It coats readily and can easily be added to an alloy. The problems it causes also stems from its singularity. It is poisonous when inhaled or swallowed by humans, and as it leaks and leeches in the same manner as liquids do, and disseminates just as well, the potential for poisoning aquifers, standing waters, and for mercury to get into the atmosphere is simply too high, and too much trouble has been caused by this interesting, albeit hazardous metal.
So the answer to the original question is yes, but not necessarily for the worse. And quite often innovation comes from necessity, so who knows what new types of guide wires might show up next.