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Chronic Illness, Cancer, Dentistry -
Are there any connections?
Michael c. Goldman DDS
The relationship of dentistry to chronic disease states such as cancer is mainly indirect with some possible more direct connections. The impact of dentistry would seem mainly to do with either increasing or decreasing the bodys normal functioning in the face of those forces that would stress it.
Living on planet earth at the end of the first millennium means dealing with high levels of pollution from man-made waste products in the soil, water, food, and air. It means dealing with biological systems that have been tampered with by drugs, chemicals, medicines, man-made radiation, electromagnetic radiation, and increased ultraviolet radiation getting through our atmosphere. All these factors affect us as well as the food we eat and the microscopic and macroscopic life-forms in, on and around us.
The areas where dentistry may impact our health related to cancer can be divided into three main headings:
Toxicity, and potentially indirectly carcinogenic
Electromagnetic, and potentially indirectly carcinogenic
Carcinogenicity, possibly in a more direct way
Heavy metals like mercury, nickel, chrome and cadmium have long been known to be highly toxic and all are used in dentistry. The expression "mad as a hatter" comes from the observation years and years ago that "hatters" - people that made felt hats - were often seen to be very strange, and in fact usually went insane....i.e.. "mad". We now know that was from rubbing mercury compounds into the felt with their bare fingers and having that mercury be absorbed into the skin. Interestingly, dentists rubbed mercury very much like that up to just a few years ago in the making of "silver-amalgam " fillings!
Heavy metals affect the immune system. When the body recognizes the toxic metal such as mercury, the white blood cell (WBC) count goes up dramatically. Since the body cannot get rid of the mercury when it is implanted in teeth, after a while the ability to keep making WBCs is fatigued and the WBC count goes way down. There have been claims of false diagnosis of leukemia which reversed upon removal of the amalgam fillings. Nickel alloys as found in some caps and bridges and virtually in all orthodontic appliances also causes a depression of T-lymphocytes as does cadmium, found in some caps (crowns) and bridges.
While organized dentistry in the US agrees that mercury is absorbed from fillings in the mouth, it has strongly taken the view that the amount absorbed is so small as to be insignificant. Interestingly, Health Canada and the World Health Organization have stated that amalgam fillings are the single largest source of mercury exposure for most of us and that a harmless level of mercury exposure cannot be established....that is, any level above zero of mercury exposure is to be considered potentially harmful.
So, to take an often over-used example, this is NOT like talking about the idea that if someone drinks enough water (i.e.: huge amounts), he can die from it....Im saying that minute amounts of this stuff is more toxic - poisonous - than arsenic or lead, because, in fact, there are known safe levels of arsenic and lead! Even outside the "alternative healthcare" community, several prestigious authorities / organizations have suggested that exceeding somewhere around 2 to 5 amalgam fillings gets a person into the potentially toxic range. Im referring to the national dental health organizations of Canada, Sweden, Germany, and others. This is not just a flakey, New Agey, "alternative" issue....
The body protects itself with its immune system. J. Issels, MD suggested that cancer cells are always potentially present in healthy people. Its just that a healthy immune system takes care of them. When the immune system is weakened, the cancer cells may be able to proliferate, much like an opportunistic infection from viruses or bacteria. He feels mercury stresses the immune system, and goes on to suggest that the high rate of cancer in the US may even be related to the increased presence of dental mercury!
Another way the dental metals may affect the immune system is by the electrical charges they introduce. Small electric "batteries" are created when metals are implanted into teeth. Especially poor quality, unstable mixtures of metals... which is exactly what amalgam is. Any "silver" filling you see in your mouth is at least 50% mercury which is only mixed with other metals and held by a high degree of attraction for each other. But since they are not really chemically bound together to form a new highly stable molecule, they can be pulled apart, and in fact thats what happens. Heat and chewing and electrical charge accelerate that pulling apart and subsequent release of mercury.
Mercury is also thought to affect chromosomes. The American Dental Associations newsletter presented articles relating to the link between increased resistance of certain bacteria to antibiotics in the presence of mercury. Vimy suggested that it is the result of genetic alteration within the bacteria brought about by the mercury. Blesius, MD suggested that mercury binds with the thymine which is one of four basic building blocks of the DNA which make up the genes, both in bacteria and in us ! A single atom of mercury binds with one thymine nucleic acid chain and that chromosome is no longer the same.... I'll repeat that....
A single atom of mercury binds with one thymine nucleic acid chain and that chromosome is no longer the same....
According to Huggins,DDS, the standard used in research in working with chromosomal damage is the substance colchicine. He says mercury is 1,000 times more genetically toxic than colchicine.
Many compelling investigations have linked mercury to nerve cell damage in the brain. As a result such pathologies as Alzheimer's, dementia, autism, ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), MS, and many others have been associated with mercury damage. But also keep in mind that many other respected researchers do not believe this connection. They believe these studies are flawed and therefore invalid.....
Another area of toxicity is from infection. Root canals that have been inadequately treated and are failing or teeth that have infected and untreated root canals are significant sources of infection. Unlike many "alternative dentists" I do not believe all root canal teeth should necessarily be removed, but every effort should be made to get them free of infection. Unfortunately, you cannot always depend on x-rays to guarantee the tooth is free of infection. But thats another long story. (see "Topics" page for more info on how I prefer to do root canal treatment and why).
Gum infection has long been related to chronic disease of the heart and perhaps other areas. Bacteria from the gum infection ( or root canal, infected tonsil, bone infection other source) get into the bloodstream and travel around the body to cause problems elsewhere. Again, the immune system is stressed.
Fluoride is poisonous. If you dont believe me, just read the warning label on your fluoride toothpaste! Does that mean you should not use it? Maybe...But I need to write another article just on that one! Just a brief note about it... using it topically [as in toothpastes] and rinsing it out is probably fine, but ingesting it internally [like in drinking floridated water] may be a problem. It's a complex set of issues.
You can buy a $40.00 digital voltage meter from Radio Shack and actually measure the voltage produced from your fillings! This is not rocket science... Incidentally, the electricity increases when two metal fillings touch each other as in teeth next to each other or chewing against each other. It increases even more when an amalgam filling touches a "gold" crown or steel orthodontic braces.
While we in the "West" dont have a very good way of understanding how acupuncture really works, we do recognize that there is definitely something to it. Each tooth is associated with specific acupuncture meridians and the acupuncturists tell us that metal fillings ( as well as tooth infections ) can affect the meridians adversely. The meridians, of course affect every body system including the immune system.
From a more western perspective, metal ions are thought to be absorbed into body tissue cells, directly altering the electro-chemical physiology of the cells.
Nickel and chromium are known carcinogens that are used in small quantities in dental metals. While not in amalgam, they may be in caps or bridgework and at least nickel is in virtually all orthodontic appliances. I dont think there are any available without nickel since the nickel gives the steel or titanium its needed "springiness". There is a new "invisible" orthodontic system catching on that uses a series of clear plastic "mouth guards" to move teeth. Of course, one advantage is that it uses no metal appliances - therefore, no steel or nickel. But this technique [Invisalign and others] is not appropriate for all orthodontic problems.
Fluoride has been related in some studies to bone cancer. Lots of controversy on this one...
Thallium is a very carcinogenic metal that should never be in dental materials, however it is used sometimes in industrial mercury to keep the mercury liquid at lower than normal temperatures. It has been suggested that companies that manufacture (distill) mercury for dental use buy "scrap" mercury from various sources. If some of that mercury is tainted with thallium because it was industrially used mercury, its a problem which may find its way into amalgam fillings in minute but possibly dangerous levels.
Anilines, also known as "coal tar", has been reported to be a breakdown product of all local anesthetics used in the US until now. It has been reported that 67% of lidocaine (the most commonly used type of injected local anesthetic ) breaks down into anilines. Anilines are reportedly the main carcinogens found in tobacco. An injection of 1 cc of 2% lidocaine provides a dose of aniline equal to smoking 84,000 cigarettes !!!!! And 1 cc of lidocaine is about half to one-fourth (and often even less !!) of a normal dental anesthetic dose....
this information about anilines was provided by Bio-Probe Newsletter, Vol 16, Issue 6, November 2000, p 4
Now for the good news: A new anesthetic has been introduced which appears not to break down to aniline. It is called articaine HCL 4%. It sounds like a winner! I have used it on my patients and it is a great anesthetic for certain situations. It gives more profound anesthesia and lasts longer which can be good in situations where there would be a lot of discomfort after the end of treatment for a while.
How to Use this information
Well, you need to have perspective ...nothing is perfect! Alternative filling materials like gold alloys, or porcelain, or bonded composites all have their possible links to cancer one way or another, too. Not only that, but as I just wrote above, the most commonly used local anesthetics were recently implicated, but we do have some alternatives.
But you need to think of toxicity like a "bell-curve" where mercury, nickel, chrome, and cadmium, are way near the top peak indicating high toxicity. While every other dental material may be on that curve, they would seem to be way down on the tails of the bell-curve. To keep your perspective, understand that the water you drink and the air you breathe are also somewhere on that curve.
You should work hard at home to keep your gums, teeth and tongue clean to reduce the number of bacteria and infection. Get your teeth professionally cleaned at least every six months, more if you build up deposits quickly or if your gums bleed. Make sure your dentist or hygienist goes under the gums to clean the roots of your teeth properly and completely. If the appointment is less than an hour, you may not be getting a thorough job! It takes a long time and a lot of work to even get close to doing a complete job... Time should be taken to teach you how to care for yourself if your teeth and gums are not under control.
You should get x-rays taken periodically depending on your dental needs. X-rays really are a big help in finding otherwise unseen areas of infection as well as unseen decay. A good dentist will try to balance minimizing the number of x-rays with the need to see whats going on. Ask why x-rays are needed "this" time. They should not just be taken as a routine procedure. Some patients need several x-rays once every year, others need only a 2 small "bite-wing" x-rays every other year or less. It should be tailored to you and you should not be made to feel bad asking about it! A lead apron should be placed over your body up to your chin and the equipment must be modern. Some new "digital" x-rays are being used and may have some advantages including less radiation.
To me it makes sense not to get any new amalgams. Old restorations that need to be replaced can be replaced using porcelain or composite. Added benefits are your teeth will be stronger and they will look so much better! As far as replacing old restorations that are still functioning well, you may have to argue with your dentist! or find another one.... Many dentists refuse to replace old fillings that are still working "ok" from their point of view.
Some dentists have had their licenses revoked for replacing "good" amalgams with alternate materials. It can be considered malpractice. However, its never malpractice if you have a diagnosis of high mercury toxicity from a medical practitioner and ask a dentist to replace the amalgams because of that medical diagnosis. Incidentally - and strangely - its also never malpractice for your dentist to replace the amalgams with porcelain or composite because you hate how the amalgams look and want them to look better! Figure that one out if you can!
If you have any infected root canals, they must be treated. The only options are extraction or root canal treatment...and as I said above, most "alternative" dentists feel extraction in the only choice. I think there are possible ways of doing root canal treatment that at the very least have a much higher likelihood to be safe. If it were my tooth, you better believe Id do anything I could not to have it extracted!
If you have old amalgams removed, its important that the dentist do it in a way that minimizes the mercury vapor produced and available to be inhaled or absorbed. Theres no rocket science here either, just basic common sense that any good dentist (holistic or NOT) should and does know, ( although he or she still may not choose to do it....). Lots of water spray to prevent overheating while drilling and to wash away the chips, and heavy suctioning right next to the area by a dental assistant. That little saliva suction "hooked" over your lower lip wont do it.
Never let the dentist leave amalgam in the tooth to be covered over with a cap or crown. Have the amalgam all removed... 100% all. Then the bulk of the tooth should be rebuilt with a bonded composite and then it should be shaped for the cap. The cap most often now can be made without any metal in it, but your dentist may not yet be comfortable with that new idea. Before, during and after amalgam removal you can minimize your blood levels of mercury by using a detoxification regimen of supplements to grab up the mercury as your body tries to get rid of it. (see "detoxification" in Topics ).
If finances is a major problem, restorations can often be done in a long-term temporary way at much lower expense. Later, you can come back and finish the treatment a small area at a time.
You need to be able to talk openly and honestly with your dentist about your concerns. Then listen to his opinion. If you can respect it, great; if not, find someone else that you can.
While there are no guarantees, you will be taking charge and giving your body a powerful, positive message that you are taking steps to align your mind, spirit and body toward your best understanding of health.
On an energetic level just such an affirmative intention and action may be the most important single thing you can do for yourself. Good luck.
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Holism in dentistry is an approach to dental treatment, primarily caring for patients' health and safety from both a conventional as well as "alternative healthcare" point of view. It is sometimes called "biological" dentistry or "biocompatible" dentistry. In it's fullest sense, I believe it acknowledges and deals with the mind, body and spirit of the patient, not just his or her "teeth". See Topics / Info.....
Cosmetic dentistry is about doing quality , esthetic dentistry in a way that looks natural to begin with, and furthermore, can even improve one's attractiveness through techniques such as bonding, bleaching, veneers, caps, implants and more. It can be like "instant orthodontics" in correcting crooked, twisted or misplaced teeth in many instances. Dark or misshapen teeth can be restored. Smiles that lack youthful vigor or beauty can be revitalized! See Topics / Info..
Bleaching, veneers, bonding, caps, bridges, and implants are cosmetic dentistry treatments that are also discussed in Cosmetic Dentistry, and more...