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Category Archives: Biological Dentistry
There was good news from Geneva recently: 140 countries have now agreed to the global mercury treaty, several years in the making. Once ratified by 50 nations, it will become legally-binding. Its main goal is to reduce mercury emissions, and to that end, it includes steps toward a phase-out of dental amalgam.
Similarly good news came from Sacramento this week: the state Environmental Protection Agency, Cal/EPA, announced their intent to declare BPA a reproductive hazard. This means it would become subject to Prop. 65 requirements – the same rules that require dental offices to display warnings about the presence of mercury in amalgam.
Public comments will be accepted for the usual 30 days before BPA can be officially added to the Prop. 65 list. (Want to submit your own? Details here.)
No, it’s not a ban, but it is a step in the right direction – just as the mercury treaty is a step in the right direction. Yes, the treaty could be stronger. Still, it’s the broadest acknowledgement yet of the hazards posed by “silver” fillings and does require some action.
Of course, many dentists, biological and conventional alike, have already stopped filling teeth with amalgam, opting for composite instead – the stuff used for sealants and “white” or “tooth-colored” fillings. Unfortunately, some brands of composite contain BPA. So now you sometimes hear mercury’s defenders say that since BPA is a toxin, too, what does it matter? Why not just keep placing amalgam?
Yes, BPA is a toxin – a known endocrine disruptor that’s been linked to conditions like cancer, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and erectile dysfunction. Its ability to alter reproductive hormones endangers fetuses and infants, and a leading cause of the recent spike in cases of early onset puberty, especially for girls.
But with respect to dental products, there’s a catch. In the words of my colleague Dr. Gary Verigin,
…while all amalgam fillings contain mercury, not all composites contain BPA…
Indeed, we – and you – have options. The new generation nontoxic alternatives, as we mentioned before, are
strong and durable, less prone to fail and certainly more aesthetic. Placing composite is also a less invasive procedure than placing amalgam, letting you retain more natural tooth structure.
More natural structure means a stronger tooth, as well.
We also have the help of compatibility testing. Through blood serum, electrodermal screening and other methods, we can identify materials best suited for any particular patient – meaning, also, the healthiest.
Always, the health of the patient comes first.
Through the past decade, Swedish residents whose ill health appears to stem from amalgam fillings have been able to ask their local county council for help in paying to have them replaced. But with costs an ongoing concern even in nations with universal healthcare coverage, the question gets raised: Does amalgam replacement help?
This was the focus of a study published earlier this month in Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology.
The aim of the study was to investigate symptoms, perceived health changes over time and health-related quality of life (HRQoL) in this population, comprising subjects with subjective health impairment, allegedly because of dental materials. A further aim was to compare their HRQoL with that of the general population.
The most common health complaints attributed to amalgams were musculoskeletal pain (67.5%), sleep disturbance (60.0%) and fatigue (58.6%). Their quality of life scores were also “significantly lower” than that of the general population.
And the result of having their amalgams out?
Not much improvement at all.
Subjects who had undergone subsidized dental restoration replacement reported persistent subjective symptoms and low HRQoL. The results indicate that replacement of restorative materials alone is insufficient to achieve improved health in patients with symptoms allegedly attributable to dental restorations. [emphasis added]
That last sentence is vital for understanding what’s going on.
Simply put: If you are suffering symptoms of mercury toxicity or have been diagnosed with a chronic illness fueled by mercury, simply having them replaced is not enough. For one, if they’re not removed safely, the result can be a worsening of illness. It’s why we make a distinction between “mercury-free” and “mercury-safe” dentistry. The IAOMT guidelines for safe mercury removal explain exactly what the latter involves.
But more, you also must deal with all the mercury that’s built up and been stored in the various tissues of the body. A healthy body has mechanisms for clearing mercury and other heavy metals and toxins; in illness, those systems are compromised. So first, the body must be prepared to heal by opening the channels of elimination; otherwise, those stored metals will stay put. Likewise, post-treatment detox supports the clearing of mercury and other toxins.
Then, we see results more like those published last year in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation: significant reductions in health complaints. They’re the kind of results we’ve seen in our practice for years.
Image by foshydog, via Flickr
A wonderful video by English dentist and naturopath Dr. Alison Adams on the basics of biological dental medicine:
The whole playlist this comes from – Root Canals & Infection – is excellent, giving a good overview of many important concerns in biological dentistry. Topics include mercury and other heavy metal toxicity, cavitations, fluoride, oral galvanism and more. Check it out!
More than 20 years ago, Norway began to actively phase out the use of dental amalgam. In 2008, it banned mercury outright, with limited exemptions for dental use for another two years. Since the end of 2010, mercury-free dentistry has been the norm.
And how has it gone?
That’s the subject of a report commissioned by the Norwegian Climate and Pollution Agency, issued earlier this year. It reviews “the experiences from the phase-out of the use of dental amalgam as tooth filling material in Norway, and make[s] an assessment of the costs to the society from the actions taken to limit the release of mercury.” And its conclusions?
- Use and release of mercury are substantially reduced.
- Experiences with the alternatives to dental amalgam are generally positive.
- Abatement “end-of-pipe” costs lower than dental amalgam phase-out costs.
That is, they found it does cost more to phase-out mercury than merely to contain emissions. But this, the report urges, is no deal-breaker. Why not? Because the long-term goal is to eliminate mercury pollution. As less amalgam is used and more replaced with nontoxic materials, those “end-pipe” costs will gradually dwindle to zero. The phase-out costs are thus an investment.
And if you’re not familiar with the site, it’s definitely one worth bookmarking. Its admins are amassing a fine library of mercury and amalgam research done over the years. A sample of references you may find worthwhile:
- Characterization of Health Complaints Before & After Removal of Amalgam Fillings
- A Systematic Review of Mercury Toxicity
- Significant Mercury Deposits in Internal Organs Following the Removal of Dental Amalgam
- Migration of Mercury from Dental Amalgam through Human Teeth
Image by Froskeland, via Flickr
Is it possible anyone missed the news yesterday that the US Supreme Court upheld most of the “Affordable Care Act,” a/k/a “Obamacare”?
Reading about this and response to the ruling, I thought it might be good to repost what I wrote just after the bill was passed…
Biological Dentistry as Real Health Care Reform
It’s interesting how so many people keep refering to the new health insurance bill as “health care reform.” For all the good things it does, it doesn’t reform health care so much as it reinforces profit-driven medicine.
Like many other holistic health professionals, I believe that any real health care reform must begin with broadening our understanding of health itself. For health is much more than the absence of sickness. It is a process – a way of being, if you will.
If we, as a society, made a real commitment to preventive care and the active pursuit of healthy, positive lifestyles, I think we’d go a very long way toward reducing the amount of money we spend on “sick care.” As Deepak Chopra noted in one of his excellent commentaries prior to passage of the health insurance bill,
To borrow a phrase from [former Health, Education and Welfare] Secretary Califano, we’ve become a “sick-care system” that puts all its efforts in developing newer drugs and offering more surgery once a person is ill. Doctors are not trained to keep people healthy. They are also strongly tempted to perform needless procedures that do not extend life span, such as hysterectomies, lower back surgery, heart bypass, and balloon angioplasty.
We are addicted to the sick-care system, and no money is being allocated in any of the reform bills in Congress to breaking this addiction. Massive public education was successful, over a long period of time, in getting people to quit smoking. Now we need the same massive public education to get them to adopt prevention. Will doctors, insurance companies, and big pharma do the job for us? Well, did big tobacco do the job of ending smoking? Without government action, the private sector will push drugs and surgery because prevention doesn’t show up as profit on their bottom line.
He adds, “Right now, health-care reform has been couched in terms of economics first and morality second, with little thought to what should really come first: turning sickness into wellness.”
Sad to say, but mainstream dentistry has a pretty bad track record when it comes to privileging sick care over preventive care. I suspect that much of it stems from the long-standing idea that dentists are little more than “glorified mouth mechanics,” as biological dentist Gary Verigin once put it. They see the mouth in isolation from the rest of the body and serve mainly to fix things when they go wrong: filling cavities, performing root canal procedures, repairing broken teeth and so on. This view has made it easy for some to accept many practices that we now know to be harmful yet still continue to be done. They put mercury fillings into decayed teeth. They soak the teeth and gums in fluoride. They do root canals in a misguided effort to “save” dead teeth (Would you keep any other organ in your body if it were dead?) and in the process create harbors for infection that even just the normal pressures of chewing can push into the body’s circulation where it can wreak havoc elsewhere.
The first step in dental health care reform is to stop these practices that put individuals at risk of illness, just as holistic and biological dentists have done. Deeply understanding the relationships amongst the teeth, gums, soft oral tissues and the rest of the body, they can provide nontoxic, health-enhancing care – whether it’s undoing problems caused by profit-driven dentistry or supporting individual patients in their quest for optimal health and wellness.
The concerns of biological dentistry are spelled out concisely in a [then] new book  by longtime biological dentist Douglas. L. Cook, Rescued by My Dentist: New Solutions to a Health Crisis.
Much of it deals with the typical concerns of mercury, root canals and cavitations, but he also addresses several important issues often glossed or ignored in other accessible books on the subject – issues such as oral galvanism and the potential health effects of implants. He also provides much needed discussion on the damage that high speed drilling can do to the complex and delicate structures within the human tooth, as Dr. Ralph Turk, amongst others, showed in his research. (A translation of Dr. Turk’s important paper on “Iatrogenic Damage Due to High Speed Drilling” is reprinted in this book, but for a quick overview of the topic, see Dr. Verigin’s article “10 Reasons Why Your Teeth Might Hurt – and 7 Things You Can Do about It.”)
Cook also spends a good deal of time outlining the concepts of energy medicine as it pertains to the teeth, especially focusing on the tooth-meridian relationships so vital to the understanding of how problems that begin in the mouth can cause or influence problems elsewhere in the body. (According to the great Dr. Voll, cited by Cook, 80 to 90 percent of all systemic health problems can be traced to the oral cavity.) In short, it offers a solid, general introduction to what biological dental medicine is all about, and the strength of that information is what makes this book valuable.
It’s not entirely clear who this book is intended for, though. While the cover, title and much of the information suggests that it’s written mainly for the layperson, a fair amount of material is directed to dentists interested in learning procedures and protocols, such as electrodermal screening for the detection of dental problems (imbalances) and evaluation of dental materials. For those readers, the more general information may be too general, while for the layperson, such specifics may be distracting or at times create the impression that these are the only valid practices. (For instance, many excellent biological dentists prefer serum testing such as that done by Clifford Consulting & Research to evaluate dental materials – an option Dr. Cook doesn’t mention. In my practice, we strongly recommend it for those with autoimmune disorders, multiple chemical sensitivities or other environmentally- aggravated illness, as it gives the surest and most thorough results.)
One aspect of the book that may be extremely interesting and useful to the lay reader is the collection of case histories Dr. Cook has included. These amply illustrate the range of physical problems and health conditions that can be cured through proper attention to dental conditions. And while some might object to this being little more than more authoritative anecdotal evidence, the doctor does back up that evidence with reference to key scientific literature.
In reading the case histories, though, it’s important to remember that cure is seldom instant, especially when health problems have been chronic for years. Yet the overwhelming majority of histories here suggest that cure came fast, typically reporting a remission of symptoms within a few days at most. While such “miracles” do happen – I have seen them myself – it must be stressed that they are “miracles” precisely because they are not the norm. Just as it takes years of negative health influences to damage one’s health, it takes time to heal, and it’s important for every person who seeks biological dental care to understand this before proceeding with treatment. Great things can and do happen, but more often than not, over time.
Though the book could benefit from a really good edit – there’s a fair amount of repetition here, and sometimes the organization is less than clear – as mentioned, the information is valuable, and the main points, put across powerfully and memorably. I would not hesitate to recommend the book to patients – or potential patients – who are just beginning to investigate the possible connections between their health complaints and their dental health, as well as practitioners who want to understand what the biological approach to dentistry is all about. If they then want to know more, they can turn to the many excellent sources Dr. Cook cites, as well those I list on my practice’s website (scroll to the bottom of the page to the section “For Further Reading”).
It’s funny how people tend to make a distinction between dentists and “regular doctors.” Physicians are, by and large, all considered doctors even if they specialize in some isolated body part – ophthalmologists for eyes, say, or dermatologists for skin, podiatrists for feet – except for the mouth. When you do that, you’re not a doctor but a dentist.
Yet what is a dentist but a physician who specializes in the mouth, teeth and other oral structures?
Currently, 9 dental specializations are officially recognized:
- Dental public health, which focuses on dental epidemiology and public health policy
- Endodontics, which focuses on the inside of the tooth, or dental pulp (If you’ve ever had a root canal, you may have been referred to an endodontist – a dentist who specializes in this procedure .)
- Oral and maxillofacial pathology, which is concerned with diseases of the mouth and jaw
- Oral and maxillofacial radiology, which is concerned with x-ray and other imaging of mouth and jaw diseases and conditions
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery, which treats diseases, injuries and defects of the mouth and jaw
- Orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics, which focuses on tooth and jaw alignment
- Pediatric dentistry, which focuses on the dental health of children
- Periodontics, which is concerned with the health and treatment of the gums and related oral structures
- Prosthodontics, which involves the replacement of missing teeth
And biological dentistry?
Even as more dentists are pursuing the extra education and training to specialize in biological dental medicine, it remains an unofficial specialty. But considering our ever-deepening understanding of the oral-systemic health connection, its a specialty on the leading edge.
This is because biological dentistry is most intently concerned with that connection. Sometimes called “holistic,” “whole-body” or “integrative” dentistry, it combines the best clinical practices of Western dentistry with the wisdom of other traditions, including Traditional Chinese Medicine. Knowing that local causes can have distant effects, the biological dentist always keeps the big picture in mind: the effect of dental conditions and treatment on the body, and vice versa. Thus, issues of biocompatibility loom large. So, too, issues of toxins such as mercury and fluoride: Their effects go far beyond the teeth.
Acknowledging that treating symptoms is not the same as treating – let alone preventing – disease, biological dentistry prefers therapies that support the body’s self-healing abilities. It favors nontoxic, nature-based remedies and a conservative approach to treating the teeth. As one colleague of mine likes to say, “The best dentistry is the least dentistry.”
Operatory image by Dr. Alper, via Flickr