The tooth,
the whole tooth,
and nothing but the tooth

Michael J. Olmstead, D.D.S.
any of us are guilty of seeing the teeth and mouth as isolated parts of the body. In reality, it doesn't work that way. The teeth, like every other part of our bodies, are interconnected to the whole. What we do to the mouth affects our overall health, and how we take care of our general health affects the health of our teeth and gum tissue.
Because of this, the concept of "Bio-compatible dental care" was developed. The term describes the treatment and health of the teeth and gums in the context of the overall health of the individual. Many factors in dentistry today have far-reaching consequences to overall health, and treating the teeth and gums as isolated entities simply is not effective.
In addition, recent media coverage in newspapers and magazines and on television programs such as "60 Minutes" and "20/20" have raised tremendous public concern regarding the safety of both amalgam fillings and sterilization practices in dental offices. The patient needs to be informed about the different treatments available and the safety procedures implemented by their dentist.

Mercury fillings

Unfortunately, most of the coverage appearing in the media has given the false impression that the alternatives to amalgam fillings are expensive and do not last as long, and that state-of-the-art sterilization of instruments between patients simply costs too much and takes too long to be practical. The truth is just the opposite.
Silver amalgam is the most common filling material used in dentistry. It has been utilized for centuries, mostly because of its ease of use. The problem is that amalgam fillings contain 50 percent or more mercury by weight and, as we all know, mercury is a hazardous substance. Extensive medical studies have linked mercury to degeneration of the myelin sheath coating the nerves (a condition similar to multiple sclerosis), Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and immune system suppression. Mercury also crosses the placental barrier, resulting in mercury levels in the brain of the fetus at birth equivalent to those in the mother.
There have been no studies to measure the effects of chronic mercury exposure on developing tissues. In fact, the FDA never has required testing of amalgam for its effects on human health. Yet amalgam was grandfathered-in by the FDA in the 70s as an acceptable dental material!
The World Health Organization considers amalgam fillings to be the primary source of human exposure to mercury. In other words, mercury is not "locked" in the filling, but is released from it. The release is aggravated by chewing, grinding the teeth, and hot foods and beverages. This release can be easily measured with a mercury vapor screening administered by a dentist. As well as the potential health risks, mercury fillings add no structural integrity to the teeth and are unsightly.
That's the bad news!
The good news is, there are readily available alternatives to amalgam fillings that are structurally stronger, cosmetically superior and competitive in price. Composite fillings now are available that are made with materials having no detrimental effect on the body, which match the color of the surrounding tooth, and which can be bonded in place, often preempting the need for costlier crowns.
Surveys consistently show that the smile and the appearance of the teeth are the things that people would change in their appearance if given the opportunity. This high priority given to appearance is another good reason to use tooth-colored composite inlays, fillings and porcelain crowns. When combined with bonded veneers, tooth brightening and tooth contouring, an attractive smile is available to everyone.

Environmental risk

The experts state that the available data on environmental mercury contamination does not fully explain the magnitude of the contamination and admit uncertainty as to the prime culprit.
It has been estimated that between100,000 and 130,000 pounds of mercury enter the environment each year as a result of dental applications. Shockingly, it only takes one pound of mercury to contaminate an18-square-mile lake.
The recent Clean Water Fund Study points out that, at low maternal mercury levels, fetuses may develop cerebral palsy, physical deformity and mental retardation, even if the mother exhibits no outward symptoms. Nursing mothers should avoid eating mercury-contaminated fish since mercury can be transferred through mother's milk to children with developing nervous systems.
Because of these and other concerns, the Swedish Health and Welfare Board has commenced plans for banning the use of dental amalgam for environmental reasons. Similar legislation has been approved in Germany and Austria.

Fluoride studies

In addition to mercury, a great deal of controversy has surrounded the use of fluoride to prevent tooth decay. In 1992, the New Jersey Department of Health published the results of a study that showed that young males living in communities with fluoridated water had a higher incidence osteosarcoma (bone cancer) compared with those in non-fluoridated areas.
When a member of the New York State Legislature became alarmed about these findings and requested copies of studies demonstrating the safety and effectiveness of fluoride supplements. He was shocked to find out that no studies had been done by any of the responsible governing bodies. He also found out that the FDA had no studies demonstrating either the safety or the effectiveness of pediatric fluoride drops and tablets. These supplements are classified as "unapproved new drugs," even though they have been prescribed for years to millions of children!
Other studies have linked fluoride to cancer, osteoporosis, reproductive disorders and immune system suppression. There are natural alternatives to help control the bacteria in the mouth that can cause tooth decay and gum disease. Toothpastes containing tea tree oil and dental floss coated with tea tree oil are two valuable recommendations.

Gum disease

Another area of great concern is periodontal (gum) disease, which affects more than 80 percent of the adult U.S. population. Conventional treatment of gum disease often involves surgical removal of infected tissue. Several studies conducted during the last 10 to 15 years indicate that surgical as well as non-surgical approaches to treat gum disease are of equal value when performed properly. With Bio-compatible dental care, the patient's plaque is evaluated using a phase microscope in a simple and painless procedure to determine the level of bacterial activity. Next, a specific program of non-surgical therapy is prescribed involving both professional treatment in the office and natural home care by the patient. This natural, non-surgical program is less stressful to the body, is very effective and teaches the patient proper oral hygiene for prevention and maintenance of healthy tissue.

Safety first

The safety of seeing a dentist is a familiar topic these days. Recent media coverage of dental sterilization techniques has increased public concern in this area. The following procedures can be used to ensure patient safety:
  1. The. dentist and all personnel should wear double surgical gloves, face masks, protective eye wear and clothing.
  2. Disposable, full plastic coverings for all chairs and disposable plastic wraps of all handpieces and hoses that are changed after each patient should be used.
  3. All surfaces should be sprayed with double-strength germicidal spray prior to putting on plastic coverings after each patient.
  4. All instruments and handpieces should be heat sterilized after each use.
  5. The use of disposable handpieces should be encouraged.
In summary, the materials and techniques for safe and effective dental care providing healthy teeth and a healthy smile are available today. Composite and porcelain filling materials preclude any exposure to the possible detrimental effects of mercury and cosmetically offer the appearance of a natural, filling-free smile. These can be provided in a safer, gentle way that minimizes the impact on the environment.