THE LIFE CYCLE OF A TOOTH
Do you remember the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll’s Adventures of Alice in Wonderland? Written in the mid 1800’s, the fantasy story is full of odd characters saying odd things. The Mad Hatter is nervous, scattered, with little sense of reality. His behavior is typical of Mercury poisoning, where the symptoms appear gradually over time. In the 1800’s, felt hats were made of animal fur that was pressed under heat and pressure, using Mercury to help to hold the fibers together during the process.
And what, you ask, does the Mad Hatter character have to do with Dentistry? The connection is the heavy metal, Mercury. Mercury has been used in dentistry since about 1825. Mercury is the most common component of what we kindly term a “silver filling” or an “amalgam”. Mercury-amalgam fillings actually contain just over fifty per cent Mercury. Mercury is poisonous to living things. And this kind of dental filling has been controversial ever since its introduction as a remedy for tooth cavities.
The FDA, the American Dental Association and others stand behind Mercury-amalgam fillings, citing the benefits of lower cost and durability. The FDA website also cautions against removal of a mercury-amalgam filling: “If your fillings are in good condition and there is no decay beneath the filling, FDA does not recommend that you have your amalgam fillings removed or replaced”.
This is contradictory for two reasons. First, the “condition” of a Mercury-amalgam filling is purely subjective. As an experienced clinician who has removed thousands of these fillings, even the most innocent looking have decay beneath them nine times out of ten. Second, and worst, these fillings break teeth. It’s not the Mercury toxicity issue with which I have an argument. I call these fillings Tooth Breakers. I installed my last one in 1993.
This may sound familiar to you if you are an adult with Mercury-amalgam fillings: Around age eight your first filling was installed. As you grew, you got more fillings, until about age twenty. For a time it seemed that every time you went to the dentist you got more fillings. Then for a long time, no more tooth decay! Years later, things started to get interesting, and expensive. Your dentist may have said something like: “That tooth can’t hold another filling”; instead a crown was needed to save and protect your tooth. After the crown was made (or sometimes before) your poor tooth needed Root Canal Treatment. In the worst case, the tooth had become weakened to the point that the root fractured and it could not be saved. And it all started with one small filling.
We now have alternative treatments to amalgam fillings, and to crowns. The latest treatments are metal-free and a lot of tooth structure is saved. Call us to discover how today’s conservative dentistry can save you money and your teeth!