Tag Archives: environmental toxins

Know What You’re Buying

Much of what we can do to nurture and sustain our health is pretty simple: put good in and keep bad out. Sure, that’s a major simplification, and it doesn’t account for things like exercise, quality sleep and other actions that help our bodies work as they should. At the same time, it can be hard to do those things effectively if poor diet or toxic burdens are compromising our health and well-being. (Indeed, the fact that illness makes it tougher to do the things that can help us heal is a terrible irony.)

In a consumer culture like ours, it’s sometimes hard to tell which products are healthier than others – both for ourselves and the environment. (The two, of course, are linked.) Corporations want us to buy, and to buy, we must believe that their products are safe. So of course they don’t go advertising potential risks of any given product or its ingredients. It’s why, for instance, mega-corporations like Monsanto continue to fight so hard against labeling GMOs (genetically modified organisms): Were they clearly labeled, fewer people might buy them, due to concern for both human and environmental health. At the same time, some goods marketed as “natural,” “green” and so on turn out to be other than they seem. And sometimes true claims about positive qualities can distract from more problematic aspects of a product or its production.

So if we want to be sure we make choices that we can feel good about, we’ve got to do our homework. But fortunately, there are a lot of online tools to make it easier. Here are just a few to get you started:

  • Local Harvest
    Here, you can search for farmer’s markets, family farms and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area. There’s also a store where you can buy products you can’t find locally.
  • Organic Consumers Association Buying Guide
    The OCA maintains a terrific directory of green and organic businesses, as well as links to other locator tools. (Disclosure: I list my practice here, as do other holistic dentists around the country.)
  • Skin Deep Cosmetics Database
    What’s really in your shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant, makeup and other grooming and cosmetic products? Search this huge database compiled by the Environmental Working Group to find out and learn which brands are safer than others. (And visit EWG’s home page for links to other databases and reports related to personal and environmental health.)


Filed under Diet & Nutrition, General Health

The Persistent Defense of Mercury Fillings

It’s kind of a weird passage to find on a site that promises to “improve your world” by covering “the broadest scope of environmental and social responsibility issues on the internet.” (Then again, the corporate-sponsored site – Mother Nature Network – gets funding from the likes of environmental polluter Georgia-Pacific, so maybe some cognitive dissonance is to be expected.)

From “6 Signs You Need a New Dentist,” originally published in Woman’s Day:

If your dentist recommends that you replace all of your silver fillings with tooth-colored versions, you may want to get a second opinion. While there are some theories that the mercury content in silver fillings can be harmful to your health, none of them has been proven to be true, says Dr. Gross. According to Shelley Seidel, DDS, MD, who practices at Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons of Houston and is the director of the Institute for Dental Implant Awareness, as long as you don’t have cavities below your fillings — which can be detected by examination or x-ray — or the fillings aren’t broken or fractured, there is no need to replace them. “If your dentist wants to take them out simply because silver fillings are passé, you’re asking for trouble because you don’t know how your teeth will react,” explains Dr. Gross. “They may react in an unfavorable way, becoming more sensitive or in need of a root canal or crown.” (emphasis added)

Amalgam being “passé” is hardly the issue.

As regular readers know, “silver” describes only the color of these fillings, which mostly consist of mercury, a potent neurotoxin. Though more and more dentists have quit using mercury amalgam, US dentists alone place about 70 million of these fillings every year, using 34 tons of mercury. But not all that mercury goes into patients’ mouths. Tons of it are released into the water system each year, as well. As Dr. Bicuspid has reported,

Approximately 50% of mercury entering local waste treatment plants comes from dental amalgam waste – about 3.7 tons of mercury annually, according to the EPA. Once deposited, certain microorganisms can change elemental mercury into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish, and animals that eat fish. Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans, and the EPA is concerned that methylmercury can damage children’s developing brains and nervous systems even before they are born.

And it doesn’t even take that much mercury to cause contamination: As little as one teaspoonful (PDF) can render a 22 acre lake toxic.

Yet it’s considered okay to put mercury in a person’s mouth, mere inches from the brain?

Contrary to Dr. Gross’s claim, there is a substantial scientific record of amalgam’s power to harm human health. (For a sample, see this and this and this.) There has also been work along the lines of a study published just this month in the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation which demonstrated long-lasting reduction of health complaints after mercury removal.

That said, no conscientious dentist would make a the kind of generalizing statement like the one used in the MNN/Woman’s Day article: “You need to replace all of your silver fillings with white ones.” You can’t just assume that if a person has amalgams, they must be removed. Our bodies have excretory mechanisms to remove any toxins that enter. Some people have healthier, more robust systems than others. Some carry a heavier toxic load due to multiple and/or ongoing exposures, not just mercury.

You have to ask, Is the person experiencing symptoms? Are amalgams the primary cause?

Always, you need to look at each individual’s health situation and do the appropriate exams and evaluations to determine the presence and impact of any oral obstacles to systemic health. If you find any – mercury fillings or otherwise (e.g., infected root canal teeth or cavitations) – you then map out a systematic, patient-specific plan for treatment and healing. And if amalgam removal is involved, it must be done safely (PDF). You also need to be sure that the new restorations are biocompatible, which is determined beforehand through blood serum analysis and other tests.

So, yes: The caution against rushing into amalgam removal (or any other treatment) is sound. You just don’t need to justify it by insisting against evidence that amalgam is risk-free.

Note: There’ll be no post next week, due to the Veteran’s Day holiday.

Mouth image by brillenschlange, via Flickr

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Filed under Dentistry, Mercury