What’s in Your Mouth?
Most chronic diseases including autoimmune diseases are rooted in inflammation, so I’m always looking for the sources of that inflammation when I treat my patients. I’ve found that inflammation is often caused by five major environmental factors: our diets, a leaky gut, stress, toxins, and infections.
Changing the diet and healing the gut are big first steps, but the gut isn’t the only place where persistent infections and toxins such as heavy metals can easily enter the bloodstream. There’s another major point of potential exposure: the mouth.
We tend to see human anatomy in terms of separate systems, with dental health as somehow distinct from the rest of the body. The truth is, there is no wall separating your mouth from the rest of you–infections and toxins in the mouth affect your health as a whole! So, what’s in your mouth?
A root canal is a common procedure in which a tooth’s nerve is killed, but the tooth itself is not removed. The dead tissue becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, and the immune system is powerless to halt the growing infection. In particular, bacteria cling to the periodontal ligament, a hard to reach area of the tooth that is very difficult to flush out manually, and because the tooth no longer has a blood supply, neither immune cells nor antibiotics can reach the decaying tissue. The ongoing infection leads to inflammation which stresses the immune system.
Most of us have had our wisdom teeth removed, and cavitations are a common complication. They can occur in the jaw after a tooth extraction, when gum tissue grows over the hollow area and bacteria begin to propagate. Bacteria within a cavitation again create inflammation and agitate the immune system.
Bridges and Retainers
Any kind of dental work that remains in your mouth permanently could pose a potential risk to your health and be irritating to your immune system. Just as so many people with autoimmunity and other chronic health conditions have sensitivities to certain foods, they may also have sensitivities to specific materials used in dentistry. Bridges and retainers for example, are usually made with stainless steel that contains nickel, a known allergen which can also activate the immune system.
Amalgam fillings are made with a mixture of copper, silver, and mercury. Mercury is incredibly toxic, and exposure to mercury has vast health consequences, including neurological symptoms, muscle weakness, and impaired vision. Dental amalgams emit mercury vapor, that can leach into your bloodstream. In fact, mercury fillings aren’t only harmful to dental patients, but handling them is even dangerous for dentists themselves.
If you’re unsure of whether or not you have amalgam fillings, just open your mouth and look: do you have fillings that look metallic? Of course, some people are more susceptible to the effects of heavy metals. If you know that your body has a difficult time excreting toxins, for example if you have an MTHFR mutation, it’s vital that you have them removed safely to reduce your toxic burden.
A crown can actually exacerbate the effects of mercury when placed over a tooth with an amalgam filling. It can create an electric current that interferes with your own body’s natural electric current, which can create bizarre and uncomfortable auditory and sensory symptoms for those who are sensitive.
In general, gold fillings are preferable to amalgam fillings. But when gold is combined with other metals in your mouth, it too can create an electric current in your body. I have seen patients who complained of buzzing and ringing in their ears, only to find those symptoms resolved when their metal dental work was taken out.
A Functional Medicine Approach to Dentistry
Conventional doctors divide the body into distinct organ systems, and they rely on treating symptoms rather than addressing the root cause of a disease. Functional medicine doctors like me are working to address the problems with the conventional medicine approach, and our counterparts in the world of dentistry are called “biological dentists.” A biological dentist is looking at the whole picture–the health of your entire body.
In biological dentistry, an emphasis is placed on only using materials which are compatible with the patient’s body. Each person is different when it comes to what materials they can tolerate and how well they get rid of toxins like mercury. In my clinic, I run tests to see which foods my patients are reactive to; a biological dentist may test your blood to find out which materials are incompatible with you, most often with Clifford Materials Reactivity Testing (CMRT).
If you have fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or another chronic condition, your immune system is already in overdrive, and incompatible materials in your mouth or infections could be stressing your body even more. If you have amalgam fillings or other dental work, or suspect that you have an infection, make sure a biological dentist is correcting the problem for you. They are trained in the safe removal of previous dental work. A conventional dentist might be able to remove your fillings, but they could endanger you or themselves more by not taking the necessary precautions or disposing of the material properly.
Remember, what’s in your mouth does affect the rest of your body. If you haven’t achieved the level of health you want and deserve, it could be the missing piece of the puzzle for you. If you’re interested in more in-depth information about this topic, I highly recommend the book Uninformed Consent: The Hidden Dangers in Dental Care by Hal Huggins, DDS, MS, and Thomas Levy, MD, JD.
To find a biological dentist, you can search for one in your area at www.IAOMT.com, The International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology.
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