I’m sitting in the dentist chair for my first checkup since having my baby (and that wasn’t so recent). “Everything looks good,” the dentist says and then he does that thing I hate: he pulls out that super close-up camera and puts my mouth on the iMax screen. “However, one of your fillings has cracked,” he says zooming in for a 3d ride through the mountains and valleys of my teeth.
“You really should have that filling replaced,” he says and then something after that along the lines of, “Or you will be a toothless hack gumming your way through your child’s birthday cake and calling out for liquor to ease the agony of your rotten gums.” Actually, that might not have been exactly what he said, but I panicked after “replace your filling or….” and I think ZR was screaming in the next room.
I’m a mother and an environmentalist. I believe in prudence. So, I willingly made the follow-up appointment. With the fantastic view, kind staff, and the chance for an hour without a crying baby, I wasn’t even totally dreading it.
Then today, the day of my appointment, I chickened out. Why? Not because of the pain, nor the expense. I got scared because over the weekend I was doing research on plastics (I know, this is not the normal persons idea of a great weekend) and I found that dental fillings are a major source of BPA (that very same chemical that lead to the scare around Toxic Baby Bottles and Poisonous Waterbottles).
Of course, I should point out, that BPA is considered probably safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The American Dental Association follows the FDA’s lead saying that “concern about potential BPA exposure from dental composites or sealants is unwarranted at this time.” However, the ADA also calls for additional research into “human exposure to BPA and any health effects it may cause.”
The National Toxicology Program, however, is the interagency government program set up the by US Dept of Health and Human Services to review that “additional research” and they say that we should have some concern, at least in regard to exposure for fetuses, infants, and children (and certain adults). They say that the scientific evidence suggests that even low levels of BPA exposure can cause changes in behavior and the brain, prostate gland, mammary gland, and the age at which females attain puberty.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest also suggests that we should be skeptical of claims that BPA is probably harmless. Their senior nutritionist urges all parents, especially pregnant and nurse women, to minimize their children’s exposures.
So, what is a mother to do?
1. Most fillings are still made from silver and contain about 50% mercury. This is obviously not a good choice as mercury is a known neurotoxin that accumulates in the body and can be passed on to your children in pregnancy or through breastfeeding. It is recommended that you and your child avoid silver or other amalgam fillings containing mercury.
2. Composite fillings are the white fillings which are usually made of glass or porcelain in a matrix of acrylic. It is these fillings that are now being linked to BPA exposure. There are some offenders that are worse than others. (apparently Delton Light Cure was found to be particularly bad according to one study). It is recommended that when choosing a composite filling, that you work with your dentist to find a composite substance that has low or minimal BPA. The Oregon Environmental Council recommends working with your dentist to review the Material Safety Data Sheet to ensure BADGE isn’t in the list of ingredients.
3. My dentist recommended that due to my concerns that I consider an indirect porcelain filling. This is done by taking out the old filling, making a mold, and then have a new filling made in a laboratory. Apparently this method allows for a more accurate fitting. My dentist also says it will last longer and the material is basically just porcelain, and thus avoids the plastic substrate, and is inert. The downsides seem to primarily be time and expense. It requires two dental visits and may or may not be covered by insurance and is almost certainly more expensive.
4. Sealants, which are common especially on children’s teeth, can also contain BPA. Avoid getting sealants on children’s baby teeth. Discuss with your dentist the cost-benefits of putting them on a child’s adult teeth. If they are really necessary, work with your dentist to find BPA-free sealants.
For better or worse, the best solution is still prevention. So brush and floss! And teach your children to do it. (I am the first to realize that this is way easier said than done.)
And now, when you see those pictures of Britney Spears’ kids drinking juice out of their baby bottles, you can feel bad for them not only because they are bound to get bottle mouth, but also because they are being exposed to BPA from both the bottle AND the future dental work they will have to have done.