Coastal Post Online


December, 2003

Dangers Lurk As Dentists Use New Techniques To Remove "Silver" Fillings
By Carol Sterritt

   This article has important, up-to-the-minute information that might save your life, if you or anyone you know happens to have teeth. (If not, you can skip reading it.)
   Over the last several decades, debate has raged over the issue of traditional dental fillings, also called amalgams. In the past, most dentists used traditional, "silver" amalgams to fill the cavities gaping in your mouth. The term itself was reassuring: silver connotes wealth and ease, sparkles and light.
   But there was a dark side. The "silver" amalgam was actually a composite of many various things: being 50% mercury, 13% tin, 2% copper and ONLY 35% silver, with traces of zinc.
   For years, some dentists and other health experts have decried the use of these materials in fillings. They have claimed that this toxic mess, when sitting in your mouth, outgasses and then floods your system with these poisons. Of greatest concern is the mercury. Estimates detail that mercury outgasses at a rate of between 1 to 3% of its composition each year. Multiply that by the number of fillings that your sweet little pearlies contain and you might conclude that you are absorbing far too much mercury.
   Defending the status quo, The American Dental Association (ADA) repeatedly asserted the safety of this practice. Critics of the ADA issued data and news releases from studies, studies that they saw as conclusive proof of health impairment from what they called "mercury" fillings. The ADA countered with studies of their own.
   Now a sidebar, please: the ADA is not in any way connected with the government of the United States. It serves as a national organization that dentists can join. The California Dental Association serves the same function on the state level.  
  Until recently the ADA and the CDA have maintained the status quo. For example, here in Marin, most dentists used metal fillings. If a patient expressed concern about mercury being placed in their mouth, their dentist explained away this concern by handing out some pamphlets printed by the ADA or the CDA.        
   Now things have changed. As a result of continual lobbying, fueled not so much by corporate monies but by public awareness and dedication to these efforts, the anti-mercury crowd has achieved a victory. Dentists all across California are now required to post a sign on their premises that, mercury, being a Proposition 65 carcinogen and mutagen, is in use. As an alternative to posting this dreaded sign, the dental clinic can switch to practicing dentistry without using mercury.
   Here in health conscious Marin, not making this switch can be a form of business suicide. The average Marin consumer is quite savvy and aware of most major movements. Mothers of young babies meet in groups to discuss the dangers of vaccination. Women here have spearheaded several major breast cancer movements. To be a dentist now advocating through practice the use of mercury would be the height of foolishness.
   So we should all take a deep breath and relax. Wait! Not so fast. Especially don't take a deep breath if you are sitting in a dental clinic waiting room. The dark side has not gone away -- it has just changed form. The same dentist who was not too clued in three or four years back about the dangers of mercury (and also many dentists who were) is using rather strange and dangerous methods as they assume the role of non-mercury dentists.
   Let's examine how a truly health-conscious, mercury-aware dentist is making this change. When they realize that a patient has mercury fillings, they have a game plan. First of all, they determine if a patient's health status indicates a "go" or "no go" situation for replacing the metal fillings. Pregnant women, the chemically sensitive, cancer patients and those with auto-immune diseases are among those who either should not have this work done, or should have it done with extra-special considerations. 
   For the average patient in good health, the dentist will employ the following techniques: they will test to see which plastic composite materials will work best for this patient. There are many types of materials used in place of the metal fillings. These materials now number in the hundreds and include plastics, acrylics, and porcelain. So a good dentist helps the patient decide on the material most compatible for them.
   Patients in the know insist that their dentist obtain such an evaluation by employing a materials compatibility test from Dr. Clifford of Colorado Springs. (Available by calling 719-550-0008 weekday hours MTN time.)
   At all times, a good dentist has the clarity to realize that grinding out a single filling, in order to safely replace it with a "plastic" filling, could cause serious health problems to all involved. They are cautious about taking out more than one filling in a sitting. (They wait at least three weeks before attempting a second filling.) They provide the patient not only with a dental dam, but with a tank of clean compressed air, fitting the tank's cannula or tube into the patient's nostrils during the procedure. They provide masks and other safeguards for their assistants and themselves. An air filtration system designed specifically for such a setting is in place and up and running.
   But in most dentist offices across the state, these procedures are nowhere to be found. The dentist rolls up his shirtsleeves, grabs a drill, and then pulverizes that filling. Often he moves on to a second or third filling. The patient is breathing through his or her nose, as one does during a dental procedure. The pulverized mercury now vaporizes and enters their nostrils and travels to their lungs where it enters their bloodstream. Some also can pass directly from the nasal passages into the brain. This is a travesty since mercury absorption is being implicated in many auto-immune and other perplexing syndromes such as Multiple Sclerosis or Alzheimer's. The irony is that the patient has just paid this "professional" big bucks to have their health ruined.
   So not only does much of the mercury contained in those fillings expose the patient to danger but some of it poisons the dental assistant as well. That assistant won't receive as much of a poisoning as any patient at an individual procedure, but since they assist there on a daily basis, their potential for toxicity is obviously great. Ditto for the dentist. 
   To protect yourself from such harm, ask a few questions of your dentist clinic long before you show up for your appointment. My advice: do this long before you have a dental emergency, so that your game plan is in place the moment that you need it. Be sure and find out if your dentist has had continuing education supplied by The International Academy of Oral Medicine and Dentistry and Toxicology.  Their centers are located across the United States.  
   Check out the website for the Dental Amalgam Mercury Syndrome at Or call Leo Cashman, the Executive Director of this organization at 612-721-3305. He will be happy to talk to you or to send you reading material to help you make wise choices.
   Here in Marin, two dentists that I have heard recommended by safe-dentistry followers are Jim Saarman of San Anselmo and James Birrell of Greenbrae. Remember: it is not enough that your dentist proclaims that he or she is mercury-free. In addition to awareness of the above protocols, they must be experienced in the proper methods of putting in a composite filling. At some point in your discussion, they should mention their ability in "etching" this material. (An improperly placed composite is liable to fall out within six weeks of placement, leading you to further complications and either a lawsuit or extra expense.) I have had one dentist in Marin yell at me, complaining that my chewing habits were responsible for the expensive $400 resin-filling that fell out less than two months later. (His Yellow Pages ad should have read: "Use me as a dentist-but never eat corn chips again!")
   I will end this article with a final caution: the situation of finding a good dentist can be so confusing, nerve-wracking and upsetting that there exists a real and human tendency to put even an emergency dental problem on the "back-burner" to take care of later. Remember that that ploy is the worst of all. A dental cavity can result in a serious abscess that can poison your system and even result in death. This article is written in memory of a Marin woman who recently died because of just such a scenario. 
   Find out what you need to find out about your dentist today. That way, if the need arises tomorrow or next week, you and your children will be safe and happy, with your bright smiles shining on into the future. 



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