Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Non-Toxic Dentistry?

The thought that dentistry could be toxic never really entered my mind until about two weeks ago when I read something that mentioned BPAs in dental sealants. A few days later, Brynn went to the dentist for a cleaning and what did the dentist tell me she needs? Sealants. On all four of her permanent molars. "Okay. Can I get a list of the ingredients in those sealants?" I asked. Sure, they had no problem getting me a list of ingredients. First they would have to call the sales rep, though, and she had already left her office for the day. "We'll get back to you," they told me kindly.

Within a few days, I got a call from the dentist's office. They told me the brand of sealant that they use and let me know that the sealants were only 30% BisGMA (compared to 94% BisGMA, which is apparently typical). BPA is used to synthesize BisGMA and the lower percentage of BisGMA means that the sealants, when properly cured, will release fewer BPAs over the life of the sealants. It sounds like the sealants used by our dentist are the most ecological/biocompatible and least-toxic of the sealant options. I trust and appreciate and genuinely like my dentist. He made my life immeasurably better by fixing my TMJ. He is warm and kind and loving and smart and I truly think he is an excellent dentist. Even so, I am still not comfortable letting him put sealants in Brynn's mouth. The most important thing my mother has taught me about parenting is to always trust my gut. And my gut was saying no.

Why am I uncomfortable allowing my daughter to have sealants in her mouth? Why do BPAs scare me?

I am absolutely NOT an expert on this. I am just a mom who is trying to keep my kids safe. Having said that, here is what I know: exposure to low levels of BPAs can cause a variety of fertility problems along with other hormone-related problems. I am not interested in introducing something to my daughters' bodies which at some point might cause them to be infertile or, worse yet, sick.

So I did some Googling and found out about a quacky, fringey kind of dentristy called Biodentistry. Or sometimes Ecological Dentistry or Environmental Dentistry. It is relatively new and they're not a cohesive bunch yet. We'll go with the label Biodentistry. I found my local biodentist and set up an appointment to talk with him. I wish I had brought a notepad. Or a tape recorder. It was quite a lesson.

These biodentists, they're a crazy bunch. They don't believe in putting mercury in peoples' mouths. Imagine that! So those amalgam fillings in your mouth? The ones made out of silver and mercury? Yeah, a biodentist would never use those because the mercury inevitably leaches out and mercury is not something you want in your body. They also don't believe in letting mercury/silver amalgam fillings wash down the drain and into our water supply. The dentist I talked to filters his drain water to catch the fillings he removes and then sends them to a recycler who separates the mercury from the silver and re-uses the purified silver but responsibly disposes of the mercury. No mercury going back into the environment. At that point I was hooked.

We talked about root canals and why he doesn't do them (the tooth becomes like a petri dish of bacteria festering in the patient's mouth, wreaking havoc on the immune system) and we talked about alternatives to root canals...not that I ever plan on having that problem, of course. We talked about the body as a system and the part that teeth and oral health play in that system. I learned about the anatomy of a tooth and how and where a tooth can heal itself, versus where it cannot. I learned about non-pharmaceutical approaches to encouraging healing in a tooth. I began to see dentistry from a whole new perspective.

Eventually, we talked about sealants, my problem at hand. This biodentist doesn't do sealants, but he does believe Brynn probably needs something like sealants (he hasn't seen her mouth yet). As an alternative to sealants, he fills that unreachable-by-toothbrush-bristle crevice in the bottom of the molar with composite filling, much like he would fill a cavity. I asked why other dentists use sealants instead of filling the crevice with composite, and he told me that dental assistants can apply sealants, but composite requires the dentist. At least in part, it comes down to the best use of the dentist's time.

Most brands of composite filling still contains BPAs but composite material is more stable than sealant material, he said, and would release fewer BPAs over time. "Is this worth the risk of BPA exposure?" I asked him. Because I really think any BPA exposure is too much, especially considering that my children are likely exposed to BPAs in their environment every day, no matter how much I try to control it. He told me that when my child is ninety years old, he still wants her to have her own teeth. Those same teeth that are in her mouth right now. The best option we have for her to keep those teeth for another eighty three years is to fill those deep crevices with composite material. Right now, composite is the safest option out there.

Am I still slightly uncomfortable? Yes. Because I don't know what else is in composite material that will prove to be dangerous in the coming years. But my gut isn't screaming at me anymore. Next week Brynn will go in for a comprehensive exam and we will see where that leads. At this point, all I am sure of is that there will be no plastic sealants on her teeth.

Find out more about the biological dentist I visited here. For more info on biological dentistry, check here, here, or here.


Liz said...

I know this isn't the point of the post (which is very interesting), but how did your dentist fix your TMJ? My dentist just ignores the fact that I bring it up every 6 months. So I'm having my chiropractor work on it, but my jaw is still popping (although it's not as bad as it used to be). Just curious what your dentist did for you to help.

GMA D said...

Glad you are doing your homework on sealants. Our kids never had them, we don't have them and my teeth are very healthy. Go with your gut feeling, but at this point, I wouldn't let Brynn have it done. She eats a good diet and I bet she will have very healthy teeth in her future.

Hillary said...

GMA D -- your kids probably benefited from drinking well water most of their lives. I'm sure that the high mineral concentration and lack of chemical contamination helped. City tap water is lame.

Brynn also needs to get better at brushing -- that is her biggest problem. All of her peers at school seem to be getting sealants. I think it is a trend in dentistry at the moment.

Liz -- I tried to google what I had done to treat my TMJ, but I can't find a good explanation. My dentist made me some kind of split or orthodontic device like a really thick, hard retainer. The device goes on my upper teeth. My dentist etched indentations into it where my bottom teeth should sit in order to correct my bite. I wore the device 24/7 for about a month, returning to the dentist once a week to have the bite indentations adjusted. Once my bite was corrected, he adjusted my teeth (by grinding bits off here and there) in order to fit my jaws together correctly without the device. Now I wear the device every night and my problem is TOTALLY solved. I've seen probably five dentists and two orthodontists over the course of my life. All of them knew I had a problem, but Dr. Couchman was the first one ever to offer a solution.

I started chiro care at the same time as I started the TMJ process with my dentist and the chiro care may have contributed, but I think the problem was that my bite was not right and so I would grind and clench my teeth unconsciously because my brain wanted my teeth to fit together. That is how my dentist explained it, anyway. I never grind or clench anymore -- something I had been doing as long as I can remember.

I think all together the TMJ treatment cost me around $3000, and our dental insurance only covers a total of $500 per person per year, so I had to pay a lot out of pocket, but it was absolutely worth it. No more neck pain, almost no headaches. If you're thinking about doing it, you might want to up your dental coverage during insurance enrollment this fall to help with the costs.

Doug Milnor said...

Ironic timing, Smile and Skin Aesthetics just posted a blog on the benefits of Tooth Sealants. If you are curious, take a few moments to read thru their blog. It can be found at http://www.smileandskin.com/blog. It discusses exactly what you are inquiring about.

Bri!!! said...

This is so interesting. I read an article (I'm pretty sure it was Dr. Mercola) talking about this very thing. It freaked me out because I have had a TON of work done in my lifetime. I have a titanium post and multiple crowns. My teeth are great now because I try to take really good care of them, but I am so bummed I didn't start at a younger age. My parents were not good about teaching us to take care of our teeth. So I have to live with all the work in my mouth and pray I don't have ill effects. I'll tell you what, I will be a Nazi when it comes to my kids and their teeth. This bio-dentistry sounds rad. Thanks for the post.

nicole said...

I have had sealants on my teeth since probably around 1994 and have had no problems, no fertility issues, either.

Just wanted you to know that I haven't had any adverse effects fromt the clear sealant on my teeth and I plan to have both my kids' teeth sealed too if they need it. We have deep grooves in our fam ;)

Hillary said...

Hey, Nicole! I think the biggest issue I have with the sealants is doing them now, while Brynn is still developing. From what I've read, it seems like BPAs (and most other toxins) cause the most problems when young kids are exposed to them (as opposed to adults) because the toxins cause changes in the kids' natural development. The problem is, of course, if Brynn waits until she is an adult to get sealants, then the sealants won't prevent so much of the decay that dentists want to prevent at this age.

We had an x-ray last week when we saw the new dentist and it looks like the one filling Brynn has already had (in a baby tooth) needs to be replaced because it is catching food next to the adjacent tooth and has caused some decay in the side of that tooth. :( Bleh. So, we will probably go ahead and fix that filling plus fill the four permanent molars with composite all at the same time. She does have deep grooves and is not a great brusher, so I'd like to do SOMETHING to prevent decay on those new teeth.