I had a bloody visit with the dentist yesterday. By the end of it, my mouth looked like it had been in a UFC cagefight. Having a sharp hook scraping out plaque from my gumline is probably one of my least favorite things in the world. And yet, I never learn my lesson. I just can’t get in the habit of flossing.
My visit inspired me to apply some skepticism to claims made against the field of dentistry. I picked my dentist’s brain, but he wasn’t much help. Later in the day, however, two ideas just fell in my lap. My friend Meredith told me that some China-made ceramic fillings were composed of high quantity of lead. Then I read an article that said that the FDA was forced to admit that metal mercury fillings may leak toxins afterall. I have not been able to find anything on the former, but the latter has been an interesting journey.
California House Democrat Diane Watson has been trying for years to get legislation passed banning the use of mercury in fillings. Her efforts have continued despite calls from the ADA and Time Magazine to cut it out and look at the science, which failed to show any link between mercury fillings and health problems.
The prevailing reason supporting dental mercury amalgams is that the metals in fillings are bonded to each other, locking in the mercury. There have also been some quality studies that have shown no link between amalgam fillings and their various previously associated symptoms.
Some holistic dentists pointed to trace amounts of mercury vapor detected by sensitive instruments, but the vapor was not releasing significant quantities of mercury to support the concern (a fact that anti-amalgam activists refute). They also point to Canadian studies on sheep despite serious flaws in the methods. The typically reliable news program 60 Minutes didn’t help the situation by producing their segment “Poison In Your Mouth”, which was inaccurate and not fairly balanced.
This all served to encourage Colorado dentist Hal Huggins, who authored the anti-amalgam book “It’s All In Your Head”. He was the most outspoken on amalgam fillings, and he ended up having his dental license revoked for diagnosing every one of his patients with mercury poisoning… even the patients without metal fillings. I guess it really was all in his head.
Or maybe not. Now the FDA is backtracking(?) and admitting publicly in a warning on their web site “Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous systems of developing children and fetuses … Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner,””. Whoah… back up. What happened?
It turns out the FDA is settling a lawsuit, and this is one of their punishments. They still insist that people shouldn’t rush to have their fillings removed, but they are now required by law to change their warning labels. The anti-amalgam activists are tickled pink, but the ADA still won’t back down that metal fillings are safe. If there are dental experts reading this, your statements and opinions will be accepted by the FDA until July 28th.
If anyone has relevant info on this subject, please comment. I’m interested how people feel about this topic. My opinions aren’t hardened on the amalgam debate yet. But I do know one thing for sure, I do need to floss more. Dr. Oz says that flossing will help me live two extra years. And we all know that Dr. Oz has NEVER made inaccurate health claims on Oprah. I guess that’ll be another post.
Just a reminder to parents. You should be brushing your toddler’s teeth (with a fluoride-free toothpaste) for two minutes twice daily until they are five, and then they can do it on their own. A recent study showed that most parents are not keeping a close eye on dental hygiene. I had a friend whose daughter had major damage because her mother wrongly assumed she was brushing when the child was actually faking it.
*Update* The Science Based Medicine blog has a post with additional information on this topic.