Read an Excerpt
the hidden dangers in dental care
By Hal A. Huggins, Thomas E. Levy
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 1999 Hal A. Huggins, D.D.S., M.S., and Thomas E. Levy, M.D., J.D.
All rights reserved.
Autoimmune Disease—An Overview
Autoimmune diseases can be quite varied in their clinical manifestations, but there is a definite family resemblance when you look at the causes and effects (or results) of the diseases. Examples of a few autoimmune disturbances are multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, systemic lupus erythematosus, and some forms of arthritis.
The common denominator among these diseases is that your immune system is somehow stimulated or provoked into attacking your own tissue. Normally, there are immune markers on your tissue that keep this from occurring. Your immune system can differentiate your tissue from foreign invaders, and there is no chance of "friendly fire" from within.
The white blood cells of your immune system are trained to operate a sophisticated surveillance program. Each day almost every cell in your body is "examined" by your immune system for cellular integrity. By this mechanism, dead and dying cells are eliminated, and new invaders are also discovered and eliminated. Almost all of your cells have a personal code marked on their external surfaces. These codes could be considered the license plates for your cells. When the plate is present, that cell is classified as a "self" cell. When this plate is altered or absent, however, the cell is identified as "nonself," and the immune system proceeds to remove it.
When this alteration of cellular surface occurs in a sick or dying cell, the immune systems performs a vital function in cleaning up the entire body and maintaining a healthy internal environment. However, in the case of autoimmune disease, the immune system is attacking cells that have been wrongly tagged. The immune system is still doing its job, although it has been deluded into attacking the wrong cells.
The heavy metals used in dentistry are some of the agents that cause cellular changes, which result in this chronic misidentification by the immune system. Mercury is especially effective in this task. On attaching to the cell membrane, enough physical change takes place that the cell is then recognized as "nonself," and the immune system proceeds with its cleanup function.
Mercury is so efficient in creating autoimmune responses that it is routinely used in university research animal studies involving autoimmune disease. Read the abstracts of scientific articles on autoimmune disease research, and you will often find mercuric chloride or a similar compound administered to the animals to generate the autoimmune response to be studied.
Where mercury attacks is somewhat dependent on a person's genetically "weak link." Autoimmune diseases are a result of a genetic predisposition plus an environmental exposure. If you have such a susceptibility and you are exposed to mercury from your fillings, you could well be a candidate for an autoimmune disease. For example, when mercury attacks the nervous system, there are a variety of problems that can result, ranging from minor tremors and numbness of body parts to epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or other pronounced neurological diseases.
When mercury combines with hormones, inefficient or misdirected performance will often result. Hashimoto's thyroiditis is one good example of a hormonal derangement commonly attributed to an "unknown" autoimmune etiology. Low body temperature is one simple example of thyroid interference by mercury, and such a problem can lessen within days of proper amalgam removal and replacement with compatible materials. Diabetes or mild elevations of blood sugar can result from an autoimmune process initiated by mercury's attack on the pancreas.
Lupus is an especially good autoimmune disease for demonstrating the effect of amalgam on disease activity. Lupus will typically be monitored by a host of tests, most prominently the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. Tests for this antibody give an indication of the ongoing level of autoimmune activity and disease severity. We have consistently seen statistically significant drops in the titers, or amounts of antibody, in patients undergoing dental revision with amalgam removal.
Even though many of these autoimmune conditions can be improved or even rarely reversed by removal of the offending fillings, a much better approach would be to avoid the dental toxicity and lessen the chance of contracting the diseases in the first place. Remember that you are in control, but only when you are completely informed.CHAPTER 2
The Greatest Joy—Jeopardized
"So you're going to have a baby. What do you want, a boy or a girl?"
"A healthy baby more than anything else."
This should be a fairy tale from here on, but it can be a nightmare. A preventable nightmare, fortunately—for the informed.
The uninformed, on the other hand, can create birth defects in their own children in a completely inadvertent fashion. With total unawareness and complete permission, they can walk into a dental office, have their teeth filled, and walk away with a mouth perfectly designed to slowly release potent toxins into their bodies and across their placental barriers.
California, in a brave step forward, is the first state to admit that it knows one of the causes of birth defects. What is more significant, California is willing to take the position of informing potential parents of the presence of this defect-causing toxin. This toxin is mercury.
Only a few years ago science stated that there were only two causes of birth defects: exposures to X-rays, and exposures to mercury. Now there are many new chemicals that can produce birth defects, but the old causes remain. However, X-ray machines are easy to spot, but we probably won't spot the mercury vapor insidiously and incessantly emanating from our amalgam fillings.
For this reason, resisting 160 years of conventional dentistry, some brave people in California were willing to help the world identify the major source of mercury contamination in humans—the mercury amalgam filling. According to California's Proposition 65, passed almost a decade ago, anyone who exposes someone else to a material that can cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm must inform the person to be exposed prior to the exposure. The exposure itself is not banned. However, the ability to secretly expose is banned. The catch phrase is "disclosure before exposure." As a result of this desire on the part of the state to protect the people of California, every dentist in California now has to display the following sign:
This office uses amalgam filling materials which contain and expose you to a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects and other reproductive harm. Please consult your dentist for more information.
As straightforward as this warning is, the dental board in California nevertheless threatens dentists with loss of their licenses if they say anything derogatory about mercury amalgam fillings in advising and counseling their patients. This threat to licensure is very real, as several outspoken dentists have lost their licenses in the past few years. As a further threat to the nonconforming dentist, the Division of Legal Affairs of the American Dental Association (ADA) inflicts further constraints. A dentist cannot mention that mercury is the most poisonous natural element on the planet (an unchallenged scientific statement) and then suggest the removal of any amalgam fillings. Specifically, the dentist cannot remove mercury fillings "for the alleged purpose of removing toxic substances from the body, when such treatment is performed solely at the recommendation or suggestion of the dentist." Such a suggestion is further deemed "improper and unethical." If found guilty of being conscientious and giving honest counsel to the patient about the known dangers of mercury, the dentist faces unending harassment and legal challenges in the continuing practice of dentistry, potentially resulting in the loss of his or her dental license. The dentist is forced to be an unwilling and silent coconspirator in the poisoning of his or her patients.
In Colorado, Administrative Law Judge Nancy Connick even went so far as to write in one of her rulings that Colorado patients who are aware of the toxicity of mercury and request its removal are also liable for fine and imprisonment. Although this is not Colorado law, this enormous attempt to overreach by a prominent member of the judiciary system should scare the daylights out of anyone who thinks there exists an unchallenged right to protect self and family.
Witnessing the cause of a birth defect by mercury is not very pleasant, but it is enlightening. A good example of this follows.
One day two separate containers in a chemistry laboratory fell and broke within minutes of each other. Mercury was running all over the place. The clean-up crew had to be summoned. The next day I was called.
"Yeah, this is Huggins."
"Could you look into something for me—as a favor? We got a mercury problem."
"Sure. What's the story?"
After going on for a while, he finally ended up: "and today we have two students staying home because of strange illnesses."
"Got any blood results?"
"White cell count of 16,000 with over two-thirds of the PMNs severely multinucleated. Get your attention?"
"I'd say so."
After a couple of weeks things had calmed down a bit, and the students appeared to have normalized. Everything was forgotten. But another call came the week later.
"You sound concerned. What's up?"
"The, ah ..."
"That's right, one of the students who got a little sick after the mercury spill."
"How far along?"
"Seven weeks at the time of the exposure. Didn't know she was pregnant back then. She'd miss a period sometimes for no good reason, so she had no reason to know."
"So we're in the first trimester."
"Yep. The whole brain development period." That happened on day number two of a seminar that I was teaching to doctors and dentists on the topic of mercury toxicity. I had opened the session this way:
"Okay, ladies and gentlemen, let me share something with you that goes with the territory of working in the field of mercury toxicity. There was a mercury spill." Then I told the story. "Now, what would you do if you were the attending doctor? What would you do if you were the young lady who is pregnant? What would you say if you were her husband?"
"By God, if she was my daughter, she'd have an abortion," bellowed the gruff voice of a male dental school professor.
"'By God,"' echoed a female dental school professor. "Does that mean you're playing God? It sure sounds that way to me."
"Me, too" chimed in a dentist's wife. "Do you think you have a right to play God this time, too? We're not in class."
Good-hearted laughter then resounded from the several of us who knew the first professor and were very familiar with his teaching techniques.
"Now wait a minute," said a dentist's wife who had not yet uttered a word during the seminar. "Our son and his wife had a child with birth defects, and she left him after two years. Her folks won't foot any of the massive bills, and our son will probably spend the rest of his life working to pay those bills, along with the new ones accumulating every week. He will probably never have a life of his own. Neither will his daughter. She isn't aware of much of anything. Try living that kind of life for a year or two before you make a judgment. "
"This is not a judgment; it's about what is right," added a physician. "Yes, I am Catholic, but that doesn't have anything to do with it. Regardless of religion, any child has a right to try for life and live it, win or lose."
"I've treated many of these kids in the school," the gruff dental professor again spoke, and everyone let him have the floor. "Med school sends them over. Cleft lip, cleft palate, some cleft chest and heart—those generally don't make it. And I can tell you it ain't no fun for anyone. And mercury can cause any of them defects. I got three kids—all boys. They're teenagers now. I gotta tell you, they're all normal brats, and even being healthy they were tough enough to raise. I love 'em, and I guarantee you I wouldn't wish birth defects on my worst enemy. And I got some."
Is there a compromise here? Hardly. But what about the pregnant college student who was exposed early in her pregnancy to spilled mercury in the laboratory? What was her opinion about all of this? Not surprisingly, the young lady elected to keep the pregnancy. She delivered a beautiful eight-pound baby girl, pronounced by the delivering physician as being perfectly healthy after the first examination.
Three minutes later, the baby had her first seizure.
Can mercury-caused birth defects be prevented? In some cases, yes. But, to prevent them, you have to know something about how they originate. In researching an earlier book, Why Raise Ugly Kids, I first learned some unsettling truths about birth defects and their causes. Sources of mercury exposure, the effects of such exposure on parental fertility, the biological action of mercury, the defense (if any) provided by the placental barrier against invading mercury, and the consequences of mercury's interference in normal development all needed to be considered together. The picture was as fascinating as it was disturbing.
Dental Sources of Mercury
According to Lars Frieberg, M.D., Ph.D., former head of toxicology of the World Health Organization, silver mercury amalgam fillings are the largest single source of mercury exposure in the worldwide population. Called "silver fillings" due to their initial shiny appearance, amalgam is made from powders of copper, tin, silver, and zinc mixed with approximately 50% liquid elemental mercury.
The chemistry of the setting of silver mercury amalgam after it is placed in the mouth is complex, incompletely understood, and people are told by the dental association that a stable compound has been formed as a result of the setting process. The ADA even reports that mercury is "tightly bound" within the compound.
I asked toxicologist Joe Levisky what the best way to analyze the amount of mercury in a filling might be, and he replied, "Weigh the filling, heat it, and weigh it again. The difference is the amount of mercury. This is probably the simplest and most accurate method." If simply heating amalgam causes it to release all of its mercury, it really isn't tightly bound.
Although electron microscopes have been used to demonstrate tiny droplets of mercury on the surface of amalgams, it doesn't take really high magnification to demonstrate the release of mercury. This ease of release makes us question the dental community's comments about mercury being "rendered harmless" and "inert" while in the mouth, even though dentistry does not argue that mercury is hazardous waste if it is removed from the mouth.
After implantation in your teeth, and for an indefinite period of time, silver mercury fillings outgas readily detectable amounts of mercury vapor. This is in the range of 1 to 50 micrograms of mercury per cubic meter of air. Even one microgram of mercury is adequate to destroy any type of cell in the body, especially nerve tissue. Two generally accepted facts about mercury and amalgam are that mercury escapes at a rate of one microgram per surface of filling per day, and that mercury will accumulate in tissues from low-dose chronic exposure. Most amalgams have multiple surfaces as defined here, so a mouthful of amalgam fillings can result in a substantial amount of mercury vapor.
You may think that a chronic accumulation of even this low a dosage of something as toxic as mercury is bad enough, but this refers only to a mouth at rest. How much of the time is a mouth at rest? After only ten minutes of gum chewing, Dr. Carl Svare of the Ohio State School of Dentistry measured an average increase in mercury release of 15.6 times more than during the resting state in test subjects. That converts to a 1,560% increase in mercury release. Chewing your food well is a vital element in achieving good health, but the benefit of thorough chewing is less clear-cut when your mouth is full of amalgam.
Brune examined the new state-of-the-art amalgams called "high-copper" amalgams. He found that the newer fillings (post-1976) emit up to 50 times more mercury than the earlier, conventional amalgam fillings. That means that every new high-copper amalgam filling placed today can have the effective toxic equivalent of placing fifty of the older amalgam fillings.
If other fillings are in the mouth, such as gold crowns, nickel crowns, and removable bridges or braces, the mercury emission further increases from the amalgam. This is due to the electrical current generated by the presence of dissimilar metals being present in an electrolyte such as saliva.
Excerpted from UNINFORMED CONSENT by Hal A. Huggins, Thomas E. Levy. Copyright © 1999 Hal A. Huggins, D.D.S., M.S., and Thomas E. Levy, M.D., J.D.. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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