Holistic Oral Health Claims Debunked: Part 1

It’s hard to know what’s true anymore.  I’m not talking about the “fake news.” I’m talking about health news.   The internet has overloaded us with both good and bad information.  Making sense of it all is getting more and more challenging.

This week, there’s an online “summit” to discuss oral health issues.  It’s sponsored by members of the “alternative,” “holistic” or “integrative” healthcare world.

Like you, I too have been confounded by the seeming lack of progress curing chronic diseases by traditional medicine. I read and listen to people from this alternative, non-traditional area.  To me, it’s nice to hear what others are saying even if I might not concur with their methods or findings.  And, I’m really careful to whom I pay close attention.  People like Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Mark Hyman, Dr. Dean Ornish and others have some credibility with one foot in the traditional world and one in the functional medicine world.  Others, can be fear mongers and at the worst self-serving charlatans.  I’m also wary of people who stand to profit from the products they promote and SELL, even if they have an MD, DDS, DO or other initials after their name.

I’m also wary of claims that are based more on stories than facts, science, well-done research and analysis. I don’t believe that there’s a conspiracy among the traditional healthcare community to keep people sick. Most physicians and dentists I know just want to do what’s best for their patients.

Here’s some of what a well known New York Integrative and Functional Medicine Physician and a “Holistic” Chiropractor wrote while promoting this upcoming “ holistic oral health summit:”

  • Autoimmune disorders can be resolved by getting rid of toxic dental materials.
  • Reversing gum disease can help with digestive problems.
  • Root canal procedures may increase your risk of cancer and other degenerative diseases.
  • 90% of all heart attacks are initially caused by oral pathogens

These 4 audacious claims are common in the “holistic” health field.  I thought I would address each over the next few weeks.

Today, I will address the first claim: Toxic Dental Materials.

Indeed, over the years there have been some issues with toxicity and allergy to materials used in the mouth.  Perhaps the most common of these is mercury, but there are others like Nickel and Palladium.  Too little research is done before a material is unleashed into the marketplace.  That’s why I am reluctant to use “new” materials until they have, in my judgement, been proven scientifically and clinically safe.  

We know that Mercury is a toxic substance.  Even though it is “natural,” i.e., found in nature, it causes neurological issues.  Dentists have used mercury as part of “Silver” fillings for over a century.  Such fillings have helped countless people avoid losing teeth and maintaining chewing function, a significant benefit.

Mercury exposure by patient, doctor and assistant occurs mostly when a silver filling is being placed because the mercury has not yet been fully bound to other components of the “silver;” when it becomes an “alloy.”  The alloy or hardened silver filling does not expose one to as much mercury.

Yes, if you have a silver filling already, you are exposed to some mercury which leaches from the filling as you chew food or grind your teeth.  Just how much mercury you might be exposed to varies tremendously and there are many factors involved in whether it will have a negative impact on your health such as other immune system issues and even dietary factors such as eating tuna and/or sushi.  Numerous studies have been done to see what the potential issues are with existing silver fillings and mercury vapor exposure.

“The FDA does not recommend that you have your amalgam fillings removed or replaced. Removing sound amalgam fillings results in unnecessary loss of healthy tooth structure and exposes you to additional mercury vapor released during the removal process.”

I haven’t placed a silver/mercury in my practice in this century.  Unlike the FDA and the ADA, I believe silver/amalgam should be banned.  I believe that if mercury thermometers and blood pressure machines are banned from hospitals, mercury-containing fillings should be banned from people’s mouths.

Yet, I do agree with the FDA when they say that removing silver fillings without good cause is often an unnecessary risk.  When fillings are removed, an individual assessment should be made as to the best way of doing it.

You might ask WHY dentists still do them.  The answer is simple;  they’re easier to do and they last longer than the most common alternative, tooth-colored composite fillings.  And, they’re much cheaper than porcelain or gold, the other alternatives.  We had a saying at Columbia;  “You can teach a ‘C’ student to do an acceptable silver filling, but it takes an ‘A’ student to do a clinically acceptable composite.”  How many ‘A’ students do you think there are?  Not many!

The result is that most non-mercury fillings won’t last as long as a comparable silver filling.  The government thinks that there’s a cost/benefit consideration.  I disagree.  My feeling is that dental schools need to tighten up the education of dentists and make them better.

Chances are there are multiple factors involved in immune system malfunction. Whether mercury or other toxic issues such as pathogenic bacteria, pesticides, diet or genetics is involved is probably best evaluated on an individual level.

The bottom line, in my opinion is:

  • Mercury containing silver fillings, given the acceptable alternatives should no longer be used and Dental Schools should graduate more “A” students.
  • Silver/Mercury fillings should only be removed when necessary for the health of the tooth or documented mercury toxicity or allergy.
  • When Silver/Mercury fillings are removed, care should be taken to minimize the vapors by high volume water irrigation and suction and specific techniques that minimize aerosolization.
  • Like all substances, dosage (how much you ingest or are exposed to) matters.  Even too much oxygen is toxic!
  • Every person should be assessed as an individual to determine the proper course of action with regards to Silver/Mercury fillings.

If you have any questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Next week, I’ll deal with the claim that “Reversing gum disease can help with digestive problems.”

To everyone’s excellent health and wellness,

P.S.  I think the third claim is fear mongering at its worst.  Please, if a root canal has been recommended, get it done.  I’ll discuss this last item in a few weeks, but if you personally want to discuss it sooner, please contact me at this email.