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Natural Awakenings Richmond

The New Year Can Bring a Healthier Smile

Dec 30, 2014 01:58PM ● By Anish Yadlapalli

Many adults and children enjoy hard candy and chewy sweet treats, especially during the holidays; however, some people are born with soft teeth and thin enamel that renders teeth less resilient to the downside of sugar. As a result, cavities can form. For years, “silver” or amalgam fillings were used to plug the holes. Today, much discussion exists over the best material to be used. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), amalgams consist of at least 50 percent mercury, a potentially dangerous substance. Fortunately, there is a process available where biocompatible materials can be identified and selected as an alternative replacement to silver/amalgam fillings.

Mercury is widely held as a toxic substance that is stored in soft tissues such as the muscles, brain, heart, glands and lungs. Over time, the mercury from silver fillings can be released slowly into the system and the potential negative side effects are numerous. Drinking hot fluids, chewing gum and teeth grinding can increase their toxicity. However, exposure to small amounts of mercury does not necessarily pose a health risk and the FDA maintains there is no cause for concern unless patients are “sensitive” to mercury.

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “sensitive populations may include pregnant women, children under the age of 6 (especially up to the age of 3), people with impaired kidney function, and people with hypersensitive immune responses to metals.” If there is sensitivity, symptoms can include irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision and depression as well as numbness and tingling in hands, feet or around the mouth. An article by Dr. Jonathan Levin on popular health advocate, Dr. Oz’s website, states that sensitivity can cause arthritis, osteoarthritis, migraines, memory problems that mimic Alzheimer’s, ringing in the ears, vertigo, nausea and a metallic taste in the mouth. Those with fibromyalgia and thyroid issues are typically more sensitive.  

Though many dentists ceased using amalgams years ago, there is good news for patients with these fillings—they can choose to have them replaced. According to Green Facts, a nonprofit organization that provides information on health and the environment, alternatives include tooth-colored materials such as composites, cements and sealants. Composites contain several components, including a resin base and ceramic filler, are applied as a paste to the tooth cavity and are typically hardened using visible blue light. Cements and sealants help to strengthen the plug by providing a protective seal to the composite material.

Some individuals may be symptomatic from mercury exposure and require medical assistance before having the amalgams removed because further exposure can occur during the removal process. According to Dr. Tom McGuire of Mercury Safe Dentists, “Testing for mercury is the only way to objectively determine if your body is eliminating higher than normal amounts of mercury.” This process should be monitored and managed by a certified health professional; local natural health providers, such as Optimum Health, offer this service. These professionals can make appropriate suggestions to assess and safely decrease mercury levels and help make amalgam removal minimally intrusive.

According to the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, patients can also learn about a testing process available to help determine the best biocompatible composite materials for the new filling. Available from a number of natural health providers, this testing can increase the chance for zero reaction to the new, more natural filling material.  

There is more good news. Patients can participate in their own care and help minimize further exposure to mercury by inquiring about the use of a dental dam, a simple device used during the removal process that prevents loose pieces of the old filling from being ingested. Patients should note that if the filling is below the gum, a rubber dam may not be appropriate due to the high probability that the amalgam and mercury may be trapped under the device during the removal process. The dentist will assess the best protocol to minimize the mercury exposure, as improper removal can put a patient at greater risk.

In addition, patients can choose a dentist who practices with a comprehensive, natural approach to dental care. Sometimes called “Holistic”, "Biological" or "Biocompatible" dentistry, this type of dentistry encompasses modern science, technology and natural healing. "The essence of Biological Dentistry involves the recognition of the close connection between dental health and the entire body's immune system,” explains Cheryl Bradford Billingsley, DDS, ND, a local dentist who practices in a holistic, biological manner and owner of Richmond Family Dentistry.

The result is a more natural, healthy smile.

Clair Norman is assistant editor for Natural Awakenings Richmond.