Is Formocresol Obsolete? A Fresh Look at the Evidence Concerning Safety Issues


      Concern has been expressed about the safety of formocresol use in pediatric dentistry. Formaldehyde, a primary component in formocresol, is a hazardous substance and is considered a probable human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Health Canada, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Humans inhale and ingest formaldehyde daily, however, and produce formaldehyde during cellular metabolism. The human body is physiologically equipped to handle formaldehyde through multiple conversion pathways. The resultant single carbon atom released during metabolism is deposited in the “1-carbon pool,” which, in turn, is used for the biosynthesis of macromolecules including DNA and RNA. Reevaluation of earlier research that examined potential health risks associated with formaldehyde exposure has shown that this research was based on flawed assumptions, which resulted in erroneous conclusions. The purpose of this review was to examine more recent research about formaldehyde metabolism, pharmacokinetics, and carcinogenicity. These results indicated that formaldehyde is probably not a potent human carcinogen under low exposure conditions. Extrapolation of these research results to pediatric dentistry suggests an inconsequential risk associated with formaldehyde use in pediatric pulp therapy.

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