Dental laboratory technicians may be exposed to metal alloys that are used in the production of crowns, bridges and removable partial dentures. These alloys consist of 35-65% cobalt, 20-30% chromium, 0-30% nickel, and small amounts of molybdenum, silica, beryllium, boron and carbon. The aim of this study was to assess whether dental technicians are occupationally exposed to chromium, cobalt and nickel, by analyzing urinary excretion levels of these metals and to investigate the genotoxic effects of occupational exposure associated with dental prostheses production operations by analyzing cytokinesis-blocked micronucleus (CB-MN) frequencies in peripheral lymphocytes and micronucleus (MN) frequencies in exfoliated nasal cells from 27 dental laboratory technicians and 15 control subjects. The differences in the urinary excretion of metals between technicians and controls were statistically significant. The mean (+/-S.D.) CB-MN frequencies (parts per thousand) in peripheral lymphocytes were 4.00 (+/-2.98) among the dental technicians and 1.40 (+/-1.30) among the controls, a statistically significant difference (P < 0.005). The mean (+/-S.D.) MN frequencies (parts per thousand) in nasal cells were 3.50 (+/-1.80) among the dental technicians and 1.19 (+/-0.53) among the controls, which was also a statistically significant difference (P < 0.005). There was a significant correlation between duration of exposure and MN frequencies in lymphocytes (r = 0.642, P < 0.01), but not in nasal cells of technicians. Our data reveal that in vivo exposure to chromium, nickel and cobalt metals is evident and that this occupational exposure may contribute to the observed genotoxic damage in two types of cells, e.g. lymphocytes and exfoliated nasal cells. However, it cannot be determined which compound(s) are responsible for the genotoxic damage observed in this study. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.