We, as a society have become more acutely aware of the ingredients in many products used for our health. This includes food, medications, and children’s products. Now we can include dental materials to the list. Controversies have developed recently surrounding the use of Bisphenol-A (commonly referred to as BPA) as well as mercury use in dentistry. What are the truths regarding dental materials and what can you do to keep you and your family healthy at the dentist?
Controversial Dental Materials
-Mercury – This has long been used to restore tooth decay in something called a dental amalgam. A dental amalgam is a metal based restorative dental material that is a mixture of liquid mercury and a powdered alloy (composed of silver, tin, and copper). A dental amalgam is the cheapest of all dental materials used for restoring tooth decay and was developed over 150 years ago. While controversial in it’s use, It has been and will continue to be utilized around the world as an economical choice in dental restoration.
The controversy that surrounds dental amalgam is the incorporation of mercury. There are some who are allergic to dental amalgams. This allergy could be due to the mercury or one of the other components. The main concern is the inhalation of mercury vapors into the lungs. The NIH, and FDA have been conducting and comparing dental mercury research for quite some time. The general rule of thumb for mercury exposure is, low levels have no statistically significant or reproducible harmful effects whereas much higher levels can cause issues like, fatigue, memory loss, irritability, and headaches. Most research addresses levels released in the mouth following placement. Studies have concluded that, as these dental amalgams wear in the mouth, mercury is released mainly while chewing. While the research concluded that the level of mercury release was low, it can still be a cause for concern for many patients.
The FDA has released a final study on this stating that, “the levels released by dental amalgam restorations are not high enough to cause harm in patients.” The bottom line for the use of dental amalgam should be a dental materials choice between patient and dentist. It is an effective dental material (both in cost and function) and will continue to be an option for most dental offices in the near future.
-Triclosan – This ingredient is found in many everyday products including soap, toothpaste, and many mouthwashes. It’s main use is to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. Since its main use is as an anti-bacterial, many wonder if its overuse in soaps and mouthwashes will cause new bacterial strains to develop that are able to resist triclosan’s effects. Other concerns are its effect on our immune and muscular systems. There have been small studies done that have shown an increased incidence of hay fever and allergies in general from over exposure to anti bacterial soaps.
The jury is still out on triclosan as the FDA has not given it a full vote of confidence. It has approved it for use in toothpastes as an effective aid in preventing the development of gingivitis. As of this writing, triclosan has not been determined to harm humans but studies are ongoing.
-Bisphenol-A (BPA) – BPA is used in a variety of products mainly for the use in production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy type resins. Commonly household items include water bottles, baby bottles, and even compact discs. BPA is also found in many dental materials including dental sealants and dental composites.
The controversy surrounding BPA is the fact that BPA has been characterized as an endocrine disruptor. Studies have linked BPA to numerous diseases in humans including heart disease, diabetes, and fertility issues. One study followed almost 1,500 adult patients in the U.S. and associated higher levels of BPA in the urine to lead to a greater probability of being diagnosed with heart disease, diabetes, and liver enzyme abnormalities. Another concern is the effect it has on children, as dental sealants are predominantly placed on children. The jury is still out as there has been no definitive relationship to this point. Ask your dentist if they know if they are BPA free?
Dental Materials Conclusion
There is continuing research looking into the effects of BPA use by the FDA. Nothing definitive has been stated yet but ask your dentist regarding products they use. Many dental companies in response have developed “BPA free” alternatives. Many products claim to be BPA free because they do not technically add BPA. However, all sealants and composite resins have Bis-GMA and/or Bis-DMA which are made from BPA and release BPA into the mouth as a by-product. Bis-DMA releases far more BPA, and some brands of composite or sealant release substantially higher amounts of BPA at normal ph levels.
There is countless information available on all of these products. The internet is full of truths and lies. It is important to look at these ingredients, and research studies objectively and make the right choices for you and your family. If there are any concerns about any dental materials, ask your dentist for more information to make an educated choice. An educated patient is an empowered patient who can make informed choices about their dental care.