The potential mutagenicity of a zinc phosphate (Poscal(R)), a polycarboxylate (Aqualox(R)) and glass ionomer cements with (Argion(R)) and without (Meron(R)) silver reinforcement were characterized by employing the Ames Salmonella/microsome test. The materials were eluted in dimethyl sulphoxide or physiologic saline and the aliquots were used either immediately or after an incubation period of 24 h at 37degreesC. Mutagenic effects of the materials were tested on Salmonella typhimurium strains TA 98, TA 100, TA 102 and TA 1535 using the standard plate incorporation assay, and in the presence or absence of S9 fraction from rat liver. Poscal(R) and Aqualox(R) elicited mutagenic effects on S. typhimurium TA 98 and TA 1535, whereas Meron(R) exhibited mutagenic effects on S. typhimurium TA 98. No mutagenic effects were detected for Argion(R). The type of solvent, dose of the material and incubation as well as the interactions between these factors exhibited varying degrees of influences on the mutagenic activities of the cements (P<0.05 and P<0.1). We conclude that zinc phosphate, polycarboxylate, and glass ionomer cements may have possible mutagenic activities. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.