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Toxic Effects of Dentistry Introduction
Early in my career as a dentist, it became obvious to me that the condition of the teeth in particular, and the health of the mouth in general, had to be connected to the overall health of the body. While this may seem like simple common sense to you, the reader, it remains to this day a radical idea in the world of dentistry. Other than warning of the dangers of excess sugar consumption in causing dental caries, most dentists (and certainly their professional dental organizations) do not proceed to make the logical connection between dental health and nutrition. I was fortunate in that my meeting with Adelle Davis, as recounted in Chapter 1, turned my head around about the importance of nutrition. From then on, I sought newer and better ways to incorporate nutritional work into my dental practice, and I began to devote one day each week to nutritional counseling for my dental patients. I explored numerous ways of assessing the state of the health of the body, particularly focusing on urinalysis, as the urine offers an easily accessible window into the complex world of our own biochemistry. This work led me, over time, to discover George Watson's research into the Oxidative system, and I used this model for about ten years before Bill Wolcott introduced me to the integrated system of Metabolic Typing that we have been exploring together in this book. When I decided to retire from my dental practice, I devoted myself to my nutritional work, in what was originally intended to be a part-time endeavor, which has since blossomed into a full-time preoccupation.
During the course of my dental career, I also became aware of the toxic nature of many of the procedures that we dentists and our patients normally take for granted. I am indebted to the pioneering and courageous work of several leaders in this field, including George Meinig, D.D.S., Hal Huggins, D.D.S., and my long-time friend Doug Cook, D.D.S. These men have had, to varying degrees, to fend off less-than-good-natured challenges from their more closed-minded colleagues and the very conventional state dental boards and national organizations. It often comes as a shock to lay people to hear that many health problems can be caused inadvertently by traditional dentistry. What I am about to discuss will probably be new to most of you, although some of you will have some knowledge on this subject. We will be discussing toxic metals, such as mercury and nickel, oral galvanism, possible toxic effects from root canals, cavitational problems from previous extraction sites, fluoridation, and, finally, the role of acupuncture in dentistry.
Mercury and Nickel Toxicity
A "silver" amalgam composition, or filling, consists of 50% mercury and 50% silver filings, to which small and varying amounts of tin, copper, and zinc may be added. The two main substances are triturated, or mixed together, into a mass that hardens in a short period of time. The widespread use of silver amalgams started in the mid 1800s. Since that time, there has been an ongoing controversy about the toxic nature of mercury, and the appropriateness of it's use as a dental restorative material. Because of growing public awareness of its dangers, the use mercury for industrial purposes has waned. It is interesting to note that G. Agricola (in De Re Metallica) warned of the dangers of mercury pollution as long ago as 1556 (1).
Dental toxicity from mercury has been a highly inflammatory issue for the last one hundred and fifty years. In fact, the term quackery — which is often indiscriminately applied to alternative health practitioners by their more conventional colleagues — was originally used in the 19th century to describe dentists who used the new silver amalgams, to the amazement of their more rational colleagues who were well aware of their dangers. However, over time, the quacks took over newly formed the American Dental Association (ADA), and their quackery became standard practice. It has been the contention of the American Dental Association (ADA) that, once the amalgamation (or solidification of the amalgam) took place, there could be no leakage of mercury vapors from the filling. However, a landmark research project by Svare et al in 1981 succeeded in documenting the release of mercury vapors upon chewing (2). Even this did not phase the ADA, and their revised contention is that the amount of leakage is so small it has no ill effects on the tissues of the body.
However, another landmark study was conducted by Vimy, Takahashi, and Lorscheider of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary, in Canada. They placed twelve radioactive silver amalgam fillings in five ewes. Each sheep was mated, and both ewe and fetus were monitored. Absorption of mercury into the fetus commenced on day two after placement of the amalgams in the ewes. The highest concentrations of mercury in the adult sheep occurred in the kidney and liver, with substantial levels also present in the endocrine glands, oral tissues, stomach, and respiratory tract (3). This research project has been hailed worldwide for it's meticulous documentation of mercury transmission from dental amalgams to distant parts of the body, but the ADA still refuses to accept its validity.
In 1984, I conducted before-and-after immune panels on twenty-nine patients with mercury and nickel restorations. Not only did the immune panels improve in most of these cases after the removal of the mercury and nickel, but various symptomatic health problems also improved dramatically. My report on this study was published in three different alternative medicine journals (4). I would like to discuss two of those cases.
The first was a sixteen year-old boy with exostosis, an abnormal growth of the bone. His father explained that the young man needed to have surgical procedures to free up his legs and arms every six months; he also said that the doctors did not expect him to live past the age of twenty one. After hearing one of my public lectures on the hazards of mercury fillings, the father asked me if there was any possibility that mercury could be affecting his son's condition. I told him that mercury typically lowers the lymphocyte (white blood cell) count and this, in turn, reduces the levels of T-lymphocytes (T-cells), special white blood cells produced by the thymus gland that are essential for the proper functioning of the immune system. I explained to him that having the mercury fillings replaced would almost certainly improve immune functioning, and that this could only be beneficial.
He brought his son to see me and, upon examination, we found eight relatively small mercury fillings. We had an immune panel test performed by ImmunoDiagnostic Laboratories (IDL), and this panel showed an extremely compromised immune system. We removed the eight mercury fillings and replaced them with composite restorations. Six months later, we ran another immune panel, and the change for the better was astronomical. The father called me a year later and told me that his son did not need any more surgeries, and he was doing just great; he called me again the following year to report on his son's continued good progress. He told me that the young man would probably live to be eighty or ninety, just like the rest of us.
The results of his immune panel were as follows:
Before Mercury Removal After Mercury Removal
Total Lymphocytes 2146 3515
Total T-Cells 1759 2988
Total T4s 751 1933
Total T8s 944 1195
You do not need a degree in immunology to see the sizable increase in all these numbers after the removal of the mercury fillings. The T4s are helper cells, providing a supportive function for other immune cells, while the T8s are cytotoxic killer cells, which destroy damaged tissues. There should be roughly twice as many T4s as T8s, but in this situation it was reversed, with more T8s that T4s. The immune weakness was due to a lack of T-4's. This suggested an autoimmune problem, a situation characterized by an excess of one type of immune cell at the expense of another. The young man's disease condition completely reversed itself after the mercury fillings were replaced.
The next patient was a forty-eight year old female who had had breast cancer and a subsequent mastectomy five years before. I discovered that she had seven nickel crowns in her mouth, so I explained to her that nickel was carcinogenic, and suggested that they should be replaced with gold. She was agreeable to this, and an immune panel was taken, which revealed a slightly compromised immune system. Six months after I replaced the nickel crowns with gold replacements, we ran another immune panel test.
Before Nickel Removal After Nickel Removal
Total Lymphocytes 2046 3450
Total T-Cells 1575 2691
Total T4s 1043 1518
Total T8s 572 1069
Her total immune system strengthened substantially after the nickel was removed. You will notice in this profile that the T8s nearly doubled, while the T4s increased by 50%. Diseases characterized by a low T8 count include cancer, multiple sclerosis (MS), and lupus. There is a very real possibility that, if this patient had the stronger immune system shown in the second column, she might have never contracted cancer, or, if she had, that her immune system might have been more effective in destroying it.
I would like to describe two other immune related case histories that were published in the American Journal of Prosthodontia in the early 1980s (5). The first was a young lady in her early twenties with seven mercury amalgam fillings. An immune panel was conducted to check her T-lymphocyte count before the removal of any amalgam fillings. The immune panel showed that 48% of her total lymphocytes were T-lymphocytes, whereas the optimal number should be 80%. The mercury fillings were removed and filled with temporary plastics. After waiting thirty days, another immune panel was taken. The T-lymphocyte count had gone up to 80%. Her dentist then embedded four small mercury fillings in the lower plastic restorations. These fillings never touched the tooth structure. Another immune panel was run thirty days later, and the T- lymphocyte count had dropped down to 53%. All the temporary plastic and amalgam fillings were then removed, and permanent gold fillings were put in their place. Then, thirty days later, yet another immune panel was taken. This one showed that the T-lymphocyte count had once again climbed back up to 80%. This very powerful research, conducted by David Eggleston, D.D.S. of the University of Southern California, clearly shows that our immune system can indeed be strongly negatively impacted by mercury fillings, and that the body is capable of reversing the compromised immunity once the mercury is removed (5).
Another interesting case history relates to a young lady who checked herself into a university hospital suffering from a kidney ailment. The doctors diagnosed her as having glomerulonephritis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the kidneys, which they termed idiopathic (of unknown cause) as they could not find the causative factor. As the weeks went by, her condition became worse. They discussed the possibility of a kidney transplant to keep her alive. One of the doctors suggested she should have an electromagnetic allergy test performed to see if an allergy might be responsible for her condition. She did indeed show a severe reaction to nickel, and was asked if she had had any dental work performed recently. She replied that she had had two porcelain-to-metal crowns put in six months ago. Sure enough, the metal under the porcelain turned out to be nickel. She immediately had the crowns removed, and seven days later the symptoms of her nephritis disappeared. A kidney transplant was not necessary and she totally recovered (6). How often does this kind of situation occur in today's world? Until the profligate use of mercury and nickel is curtailed, scenarios like this will continue to baffle physicians and cause unnecessary suffering in those unfortunate enough to be sensitive to these toxic metals.
The next area of dental toxicity that I wish to review is oral galvanism. Oral galvanism is the difference of electrical potential created by two or more dissimilar metals in the mouth, or even by a single metal that conflicts with the body's own bioelectrical currents. Other names for oral galvanism are galvanic mouth currents, "mouth battery", and metal tension fields. All regulating events in the human body are communicated by electrical charges. Therefore, any conflicting electrical charges that emanate from dissimilar metals in the oral cavity create an imbalance that can lead to pathogenicity. In other words, the electrical currents created by the metals used in fillings and root canals can conflict both with each other and with the body's own electrical system, leading to blockages and interferences in the body's own bioelectrical currents. We were not born with such galvanic charges in our mouths; they are purely man-made. Our immediate concern should be to identify the nature of this problem and to stop using incompatible metals in the mouth.
Further toxic fallout comes from the dissemination of non-precious metal ions (atoms that carry an electrical charge) to distant areas of the body. Various fluids in the mouth — saliva, bone fluid, and dentinal plasma — act as conductors for electrolytes (minerals that dissolve in a fluid medium into electrically charged ions). Whenever a non-precious metal post is placed in a root canal for reinforcement, or an amalgam buildup is installed, or a gold crown constructed as a final restoration, measurable electrical currents emanate from that tooth. This leads to a disruption of the body's own internal electrical currents, which in turn has a negative impact on the functioning of the immune system, rendering us more vulnerable to inflammation and infection elsewhere in the body. Imagine the foci of infection and toxicity that can indirectly result from this "battery effect" in the mouth, silently permeating the body, and causing untold damage and ill health. This problem is exacerbated by using different metals in the mouth, as they cross-react with one another. For example, even more galvanic currents will be created if a gold crown is installed, followed by a non-precious metal partial (a removable bridge) that contacts this gold crown. Unfortunately the brain does not pick up and neutralize these currents in the mouth, and so the spiral continues. I would estimate that between four and five million Americans suffer from this scenario. Couple this with fifty to sixty million Americans running around with mercury amalgams, and another twenty million with porcelain-to-nickel crowns, and what do you have? The set-up for a lot of degenerative diseases in the making. It is far preferable for only one metal ever to be used in the mouth, gold being the most desirable choice as it does not readily oxidize.
You might ask, if all I have discussed is true, why hasn't organized dentistry picked up on this? Perhaps the two biggest reasons, which are closely connected, are fear and money. The fear comes from the many possible lawsuits that might occur if organized dentistry finally admitted that mercury in amalgams and other dental metals were toxic to humans. The official dental organizations have defended that position for so long that an about-face might open up a can of worms. The other reason is money. A dentist with a spouse, three children, a home mortgage, two cars, a dog and a cat has to have a steady income. If such a dentist were to deviate from mainline policies and practices, he or she might be faced with the very real possibility of reprisals from the state dental board. The possibility of a costly lawsuit or the loss of one's license are very real threats, and such a scenario did indeed devour many of my colleagues. It obviously behooves the enlightened spirit to be not so outwardly enlightened, for fear of such reprisals!
I myself understand this situation all too well. The dental board visited my office on three occasions warning me of my failure to abide by the code of ethics, due to my refusal to toe the conventional dental line. These were weightless claims which merely served as a subtle form of harassment. Later the American Medical Association (AMA) secretary visited me to inform me that I was practicing medicine without a license. He told me that the dental board had supplied the AMA with information about my nutritional testing protocols, and that the AMA had deemed that I was treating cancers, kidney disease, etc., which went beyond the scope of my dental license. In fact, this was totally erroneous, as I was simply offering nutritional advice to my dental patients, and my dental license did indeed authorize me to practice nutrition. They told me if I ceased performing nutritional testing, they would drop their plans for taking away my dental license. I could ill afford to lose my license at that time, so I agreed to stop practicing nutrition for three years. This enabled me to get my house in order to prepare for my retirement. When the three years were up, I once again started performing nutritional testing. At this point I no longer fear any reprisals, as I am now only practicing nutrition, not dentistry, and so my license to practice dentistry has become inconsequential. I tell you this story to reiterate how difficult it is to be an enlightened spirit in a structured, inflexible, and dogmatic profession. One would like to believe that the dispassionate spirit of scientific inquiry would govern such matters, but all too often entrenched power interests overpower the very scientific point of view that they were originally intended to uphold. To quote Albert Einstein: "great spirits often encounter violent opposition from mediocre minds".
Where does organized dentistry stand today on the issue of oral galvanism? The ADA has a similar position as on mercury amalgams. Although the scientific literature abounds with references to the problems caused by galvanic currents in the mouth, the powers that be are content to sit on their hands in the hopes that these findings will somehow go away. It is difficult to fight city hall; so even with technological advances and our growing knowledge of the problems of toxicity, fewer and fewer dentists are opting to travel the enlightened path. The progressive, holistic (or biological) dentist is between a rock and a hard place, but it is ultimately you, the patient, who is being short-changed.
Next we turn our attention to root canals as a possible source of toxicity. Approximately twenty five million Americans undergo root canal therapy every year in an effort to prevent the loss of teeth that have become abscessed. The root canal refers to the central portion of the tooth, a canal that houses the nerve and blood vessels. During a root canal procedure, the dentist endeavors to clean and sterilize this canal, and then fill it in with a sterile, non-toxic, inert material. This usually renders this tooth serviceable and no longer painful.
The bulk of the tooth is made up of dentin, a material harder than bone, which is laced with a very large number of dentinal tubules. These tubules, or tiny tubes, facilitate the circulation of lymphatic fluid from the central root canal through the dentin, and out though the cementum (the outer membrane encasing the root of the tooth below the gum line) to the bone and gum tissue outside of the tooth. This is a viable circulatory system designed to service the root canal itself, its nerve network ,and the periodontal ligament (gum and bone tissue) surrounding the tooth. If the body chemistry is healthy, the lymphatic fluid flows properly from the root canal through the dentin to the surrounding tissue, creating an irrigation system that serves to prevent an accumulation of plaque from forming around the root of the tooth. However, if the body chemistry is imbalanced, then the circulation can reverse, with lymph flowing from the outside of the tooth, through the cementum, and into the inner root canal — rather than out from it. This prevents proper irrigation, leading to an accumulation of plaque.
There are many additional reasons for maintaining the integrity of the circulation in the dentinal tubules, but root canal therapy completely destroys this integrity by filling in the root canal and preventing the proper directional flow of the lymph. So what, then, happens to the non-circulating lymph trapped in these tubules? It becomes stagnant and toxic, leaching out septic poisons into the bloodstream through the porous cementum. Mercury amalgams are said to be like caskets in the body, and root canals like cadavers. They are dead organisms that only serve to add to the body's burden of toxicity. I do not recommend root canals for anyone. However, each individual has a right to own their decisions, and many people simply do not wish to opt for the alternative, to lose the tooth (which is, after all, part of their body) through extraction. I respect this point of view, but I think it is important to always discuss the potential consequences of this decision.
Another related area of discussion is whether the root canal filling actually succeeds in sterilizing the apical end, or tip, of the tooth. This is a debatable point, as there are so many lateral canals at the root of the tooth that can harbor bacteria that it is unlikely that a completely aseptic, or sterile, condition will exist. But, again, the acceptance of root canal therapy as a viable alternative to extraction is completely and whole-heartedly supported by organized dentistry. A dentist is considered to be in violation of the code of professional ethics if he or she speaks out against root canal therapy. When I was a practicing dentist, I always let my patients make the decision for themselves after explaining all the pros and cons.
The next and last area of dental toxicity I will be discussing is the problem of unhealed extraction sites. These are called neuralgia inducing cavitational osteonecrosis (NICO), or jawbone cavitations. These areas may be a source of pain, but they cannot always be seen on an x-ray. The cause of these lesions is difficult to pinpoint. It is believed that, if infection follows an extraction, or if a dry socket occurs after an extraction, the likelihood of a NICO lesion occurring is more likely. Even though the surgical site appears normal, a problem can exist in the bone for years. When these areas are biopsied, the abnormal features of a NICO lesion are discovered. It is not understood why some of these lesions are painful while others are not.
Based on laboratory findings, one or more of the following factors contribute to NICO development: immune system dysfunction or deficiency; unusual microbial pathogens; reduced blood flow to the affected part of the jaw; lack of one of several intra-bony growth factors; and nerve dysfunction. NICO lesions can cause pain, from mild to severe in some people. Pain from these lesions can be referred, or transferred, to distant organs. They can even refer pain across the midline, from one side of the mouth to the other, giving a false impression as to the source of the pain. Obviously, the best treatment is prevention, and this is accomplished by the dentist properly cleaning the soft tissue attachment, scraping the bone, and irrigating the socket with a homeopathic remedy. Generally, once NICOs are pinpointed, they are surgically cleaned out and biopsied to confirm diagnosis. NICO lesions are very perplexing. Even after surgery, they can reappear years later. Many times after the removal of these lesions, trigeminal facial pain subsides (the trigeminal nerves control facial movement and chewing, and trigeminal pain can manifest in various parts of the face). Many dentists are not familiar with this problem, but most oral surgeons are (7). In the last fifteen years of my practice of dentistry, I observed approximately twenty patients exhibiting NICO, so you can see that, while not especially common, they do pose a very real problem.
Many of you are familiar with the controversy concerning fluoride. "No other procedure in the history of medicine has been praised so highly nor at the same time condemned so thoroughly," states Dr. George L. Waldbott in his book Fluoridation: The Great Dilemma (8). The pro-fluoride forces believe that the benefits outweigh the risks, and that those risks are so small at the levels to which most of us are exposed as to be insignificant.
However, in 1977, John A. Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D. presented to Congress a controversial study that found that people living in the nation's ten largest fluoridated cities suffered 15% more cancer than those living in the ten largest non-fluoridated areas. What is even more frightening that is William L. Marcus, a senior scientific advisor for the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Drinking Water Program, recently stated that the committee report not only overlooked liver cancer incidence but also would have reported "some" or "clear" evidence of carcinogenicity, had they not buckled under to pressure from pro-fluoride groups (9). After making this announcement, Dr. Markus was given 30 days to leave his job — another sad but clear example of moneyed interests outweighing serious public health concerns.
S you may already have guessed, my own feelings are strongly against fluoride. Fluoride is a form of the mineral element fluorine that is quite toxic at anything above infinitesimal levels. Too many vital enzyme systems in our body are compromised by it, leading to possible complications with arthritis, gastric ulcers, atherosclerosis, kidney disorders, migraine headaches and, of course, cancer. The debate continues, but the pro-fluoridation forces are slowly losing ground. As our technology becomes more sophisticated, its detrimental effects are becoming more evident. There is the possibility that the fluoride might prevent dental caries to a limited degree, but the price we have to pay health-wise is simply not worth it. The bottom line is: I would not prescribe fluoride treatments for my children; I would vote against fluoridated water; and I would recommend drinking only purified, non-fluoridated water.
The last topic I will be discussing in this chapter is the role of acupuncture in dentistry, even though it does not directly relate to our primary theme of dental toxicity. There are two types of acupuncture: the traditional Chinese form that uses very fine needles inserted into acupuncture points located along the meridians (the bioelectrical pathways that connect up to different organ systems in the body); and electro-acupuncture. Both accomplish the same function but electro-acupuncture uses special equipment that allows the practitioner to determine the degree of imbalance in any meridian, as well as to deliver a mild electrical impulse to the acupuncture point to help correct that imbalance. The uses of acupuncture in dentistry are many. Pain relief, anxiety control, anesthesia, speeding up of the healing process, and differential diagnosing are the principle reasons for its growing popularity among holistic dentists, though it does take a few years to become proficient in this modality. Traditional Chinese acupuncture is taught in colleges of oriental medicine and at some universities, but electro-acupuncture is only taught through specialized professional groups.
Electro-acupuncture was researched and developed about fifty years ago by Dr. Reinhardt Voll, a medical doctor from Germany. After curing himself of colon cancer using Chinese acupuncture, he concluded he could make an instrument that would ascribe an accurate electrical value to each meridian. This is how the EAV (Electro-Acupuncture according to Voll) unit was born. It was serendipitous that he discovered that homeopathy could also be used in conjunction with the EAV to determine exact potencies. The use of electro-acupuncture is still in its infancy, but the discipline is so accurate that I believe it that it will be universally adopted by the medical profession for diagnostic purposes in the coming decades. In dentistry, where pain and rapid healing are so important, acupuncture can be very beneficial. I still use electro-acupuncture in my nutritional practice, not for diagnostic purposes, but for quantifying my clients' progress as they balance out their blood pH. Needless to say, it is a blessing that acupuncture is becoming an ever more accepted part of our health delivery system, and it is my contention that it is only going to grow in popularity.
Frequently Asked Questions about Dental Toxicity
Q. How do I know if I have electrical currents in my mouth?
A. Many dentists have galvanometers to test millivolts, microamps, and microwatts per second. It is very similar to the voltmeter used in regular electrical work, but much more sophisticated. There is a state-of-the-art instrument called Pertec®, which provides reproducible readings and is user-friendly.
Q. I hear that a lot of people get sick from having their mercury fillings removed.
A. This can indeed happen because the mercury is vaporized at it is being drilled out of the tooth, allowing it to easily pass though the mucous membranes that line the mouth, thereby entering the bloodstream. Certain precautions (such as the use of dental dams and air extractors) need to be taken by the dentist to minimize the chance of this occurring. Before any amalgam or nickel fillings are removed, a complete nutritional work-up should ideally be performed. Balancing the body chemistry and fortifying it with proper antioxidants and homeopathics is very desirable to prepare for this procedure. Some dentists also use intravenous vitamin C infusions during the actual procedure to provide additional protection. Generally, when these precautions are taken, it is unlikely you will have any problems afterwards.
Q. Is it necessary to have material compatibility tests performed?
A. There are certain materials that are toxic to everyone, such as mercury and nickel. These should definitely be avoided. It is my feeling that anyone who already has toxic metals in his or her teeth will tend to demonstrate negative reactions to many other materials to which they would ordinarily not be allergic. The average cost for the blood compatibility test is $300. If proper judgment is used in the selection of non-toxic materials, I feel the compatibility testing is unnecessary.
Q. How do you feel about implants?
A. I have negative feelings about implants, as they represent a toxic foci similar to root canals.
Q. You holistic dentists each have different ideas on ways of rebuilding the mouth. Who do I believe?
A. Get a second and third opinion. It is your mouth, so exercise your own judgment, and go with the treatment plan that makes the most sense to you, and the dentist who most inspires your confidence.
Q. I have a bad reaction every time I have a local anesthetic. Do you have any suggestions?
A. Usually, it is the epinephrine in the anesthetic that causes the reaction, but there are many anesthetics available without epinephrine. Another precaution is to take the homeopathic remedy aconite (at 6x strength) the day before and the day of your appointment. This particular remedy allays anxiety and will make you feel more comfortable
Q. How do I find a holistic dentist?
A. This can be very difficult. Ask your friends if they know of any. Keep in mind that it is difficult for these enlightened spirits to practice openly, for the reasons I already mentioned. Please refer to the Resources section of the Appendix for the names of several organizations that can assist you. You might also look up the American Holistic Dental Association on the internet.
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