Mercury (Hg) is a naturally occurring element and its toxicity, especially in certain forms, has been known for many years. Exposure to Hg can occur in occupational and environmental settings. The toxicity of Hg compounds in dentistry has been an issue of increasing concern. Dental personnel are occupationally exposed to Hg vapor in their working environment and this exposure constitutes a potential risk to people in the dental surgery, mainly from the inhalation of Hg vapor and fine particles of amalgam. In this study, the urinary Hg excretion levels of 20 dentists and nine control subjects, matched for age, were determined by cold-vapor atomic absorption spectrometer (CV-AAS). The levels of Hg in the urine samples of the dentists was about three times higher than the control subjects (6.29 +/- 3.5 and 1.97 +/- 0.9 mu g/L, respectively) (P < 0.001). Some 90% of dentists wore both gloves and masks. Standards of hygiene ( use of mask, glove and gown) may contribute to the degree of exposure. Attention to important hygiene measures, such as the avoidance of spills of Hg, cleaning of floors after such spills, ventilation and the installation of ventilation, depending on technology, should be taken into consideration.