Advance Magazine for Physical Therapists and PT Assistants
Vol. 18 •Issue 11 • Page 32
Open Up and Say ‘Ahhh’ – Metal inside the mouth can cause severe health problems
Therapists often listen to what comes out of a patient’s mouth, but may forget to look what is in the mouth. Unless you are a therapist who deals with TMJ syndrome or craniofacial disorders on a regular basis, the mouth can be a forgotten realm.
However, the mouth, especially the teeth, may hold one of the most important clues to the cause(s) of many people’s health problems. Good dental health is an important aspect of the total health equation. However, dental health needs some further clarification for this to make more sense.
A Bit of Metal
Good dental health can be attained via some basic oral hygiene habits—e.g., gentle tooth brushing (without fluoride or harsh chemicals) and flossing. Healthy dietary and lifestyle habits also contribute to dental health. However, even if these health basics are followed, a person’s dental health may still not be good. In fact, brushing and flossing can actually aggravate the problem of metal teeth.
By metal teeth, I am referring to teeth that contain metal dental fillings, better known as “silver fillings” or “mercury amalgams.” Mercury amalgams have been used by dentists for a long time to help repair tooth decay. These fillings are a type of metal alloy mixture containing mostly mercury and other metals such as silver, copper, tin and zinc.
So, what is the problem with having a little bit of metal in your mouth? Heavy metals, especially mercury, are toxic to the human body. Mercury is also very volatile—meaning it can give off mercury vapor when agitated, compressed or exposed to increases in temperature. For example, eating, chewing gum, drinking hot liquids, brushing and flossing can all agitate mercury fillings and cause them to release mercury vapor into the body.
Once agitated and released, mercury vapors can be taken into the lungs, sinuses, gastrointestinal track, nervous system and bloodstream—where they can eventually lead to serious health problems.
Metal fillings can also undergo corrosion—they rust. This occurs because the human mouth has all the factors needed to produce electrical currents—a phenomenon known as oral galvanism—which can be intensified when the mouth contains metal fillings.
Just like a car battery, metal fillings can break down over time and corrode. This corrosion occurs as a result of chemical processes that occur inside the mouth.
Once corrosion occurs, these corroded particles can be absorbed into the body’s tissues and organs and cause significant health problems. Despite these facts, many dentists and some organizations supporting the dental profession still believe that once mercury is combined with other metals it is “locked in,” therefore safe and can’t cause the body any harm. Although their stance does not seem to be well supported by the scientific literature, there has been some scientific evidence that proves otherwise.
Common Sense: It Matters
In addition to the scientific evidence, common sense should clearly reveal that heavy metals do not belong in the human body—especially our mouths. Why would having a severely toxic substance placed right next to our central nervous system and master endocrine glands be okay for us? Does that even make sense?
I believe the answer is, “No, it doesn’t.” Mercury should not be allowed in dental fillings or anything that goes into the human body for that matter—including foods, beverages, personal hygiene products, medicine and so on. Unfortunately, besides dental fillings,
mercury is still being allowed in many other products in the U.S. as well.
Signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning may include:
Psychological disturbances—including irritability, nervousness, loss of memory, lack of focus or concentration, decline in intellect, anger, depression, anxiety, drowsiness, insomnia, hallucinations, manic depression, emotional instability and autism.
Oral cavity problems—such as bleeding gums, alveolar bone loss, loosening of teeth, excessive salivation, foul breath, metallic taste in mouth, inflammation of gums (gingivitis), inflammation of the mouth (stomatitis), white patches (luekoplakia) and a burning sensation in the mouth or throat.
Gastrointestinal effects—including abdominal cramps, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, diarrhea or urinary tract problems.
Cardiovascular effects—such as irregular heart beat (tachycardia, bradycardia), alterations in blood pressure (hypertension, hypotension) and pain or pressure in the chest (angina).
Neurological effects—including chronic and/or severe headaches, dizziness, ringing or noises in ears, fine tremors, numbness,
tingling in the lips, hands, feet, eyelids and tongue; speech disorders, eye disorders (dim, double vision), and balance and incoordination problems such as stumbling gait.
Respiratory effects—such as persistent cough, emphysema or shallow and/or irregular breathing.
Immunological effects—such as allergies, asthma, inflammation of nose (rhinitis), sinusitis and swollen lymph glands (especially in the neck).
Endocrine effects—including subnormal body temperature, cold clammy skin especially in the hands and feet, excessive perspiration, chronic fatigue, anorexia, weight loss, renal and liver damage and thyroid problems.
Integumentary effects—including dermatitis, rashes and skin blemishes.
Circulatory effects—such as anemia, hypoxia, edema and heart problems.
Musculoskeletal effects—such as muscle weakness progressing to paralysis, fibromyalgia-like syndromes, joint pain, weak tendons and ligaments and myofascial pain.
Who’s At Risk?
Since mercury is so toxic, most people with mercury fillings will probably be affected at some point—whether they are aware of it or not. Unfortunately, clinically observable symptoms do not always appear before there is a problem.
If the mercury release is gradual, some people may suffer, but not attribute their problems to the mercury in their teeth. Individual biochemical make-up and the ability to efficiently remove mercury from the body on an ongoing basis will also greatly determine the
severity of health problems that can be caused by mercury poisoning from dental fillings.
It is important for therapists to understand the potential health risks that mercury fillings can pose to patients. The point of this article is not to scare people, but rather to raise awareness about one of the often overlooked pieces of a patient’s poor health enigma.
Besides the musculoskeletal, neurological, integumentary and cardiopulmonary screenings that are generally performed by therapists, a complete system review of a patient should include a dental-oral screening as well. This procedure could easily be done with the “open up and say ahhh test.” A therapist need only take a quick look inside the patient’s mouth and note the presence of any metal fillings and/or abnormal oral cavity findings.
Although it is not in a therapist’s scope of practice to provide dental care, he can educate patients by providing them with reliable resources, recommendations and referrals to qualified dental health professionals. “Biological dentistry,” “mercury-free dentistry” or “toxic-free dentistry” are all terms commonly used by qualified dental professionals who are properly trained in mercury testing and filling removal.
However, as when shopping for any health product or service, a person should research before choosing a dental professional to work with. Some helpful organizations that may be able to help include the International Academy of Oral Medicine and Toxicology, the American Academy of Biological Dentistry, the Holistic Dental Association, the International Association of Nutrition and Preventive Medicine, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, and the support group DAMS (Dental Amalgam Mercury Syndrome).
A therapist can also educate patients about proper nutrition and the other factors needed to build a strong, healthy body. Therapists may educate patients about the importance of basic oral hygiene, as well as the potential factors that can agitate mercury amalgams if present in the mouth—e.g., excessive eating, drinking hot liquids, chewing gum, electromagnetic stress, brushing and flossing across the metal fillings, and exposure to anything that would cause a rise in temperature inside the mouth.
Therapists often teach their patients the importance of “heart health.” Why should “tooth health” be any different?
Most mercury amalgams last five to 10 years before they need to be replaced. However, mercury release can occur throughout the life of the fillings—and cause health problems. When fillings need to be used or replaced to help restore tooth integrity, there really is no need for mercury fillings to be used—especially when there are much safer and affordable alternatives.
What should people do if they currently have mercury amalgams? Each person should weigh the risks versus the benefits, and then make an informed decision as it pertains to his individual situation.
There is no doubt that addressing the mercury amalgam issue can be an important decision. I have personally done so—and the results have been well worth it.
Resources are available online at www.advanceweb.com/pt or upon request.
Dr. Mielcarski is an expert in the field of rehabilitation. He is currently licensed as a physical therapist in Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.
He currently practices physical therapy in the Atlanta region. He can be reached at www.DrSamPT.com