Portraits of our country's first president, George Washington, rarely show him smiling and for a good reason: George Washington's false teeth were made with wood. Though they were well sculpted by his blacksmith friend Paul Revere, this crude set of teeth did not have the same polish as nature's artistry.
Dentistry has come a long way since the time of George Washington, but it still has a long way to go in order to deal with the degree of dental problems affecting people today.
It has been estimated that 98% of the American public suffers from dental disease. (1) Approximately 25 million Americans, or one in every eight people do not have any teeth. (2) And over six million teeth are removed each year. (3)
One may wonder what homeopathic medicine may offer dentistry. It initially seems that dental disease is a straightforward problem that simply requires good hygiene for prevention and the use of modern dental practices to deal with dental problems as they arise. Dentistry doesn't seem to be a controversial subject, or is it? Although there may be general agreement on the importance of prevention, there is disagreement on how to prevent dental problems, and there is significant controversy on how to deal with them when they arise.
It is generally recognized that tooth decay (caries) results from bacteria in the mouth which thrive on the sugar and refined foods that the person eats. The bacteria produces a harmful acid which can dissolve teeth. When the teeth are not kept clean through brushing and flossing, the germs are able to infiltrate through the enamel and into the dentin of the teeth or under the gums of the mouth, wreaking havoc by causing decay and peridontal disease.
When the bacteria isn't cleaned out of the mouth, it binds with corrosive waste products in the mouth and attaches itself to teeth and gums, forming plaque. Plaque destroys the connective tissues that attach gums to teeth, creating inflammation of the gums or gingivitis. If this disease process continues, the teeth will loosen and eventually either fall out or need to be removed.
Dental caries and gum problems are thought to result primarily because of the poor care and maintenence of the oral cavity. There are, however, other factors that influence the development of caries. It is recognized that the salivary glands in the mouth help fight decay by trying to neutralize the acid that the germs produce. The healthy functioning of the salivary glands are dependent on the person's overall health.
The person's overall health also directly affects gum health. Hormones, in particular, play a major role in the health of gums. If a person's thyroid is either secreting too much or too little thyroid hormones, the ligaments that hold teeth and gums together are weakened and the blood supply to gum tissues is decreased. Imbalance in sex hormones can make a person more susceptible to gum and teeth problems, which is why women experience exacerbated dental conditions during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. Anemia which can lessen the amount of blood oxygen reaching the gums can also make a person more susceptible to gum disease. Even something as general as stress can influence the strength of the connective tissues between teeth and gums.
The person's overall health also influences the strength of the person's teeth. The parathyroid regulates calcium levels in the body, and an irregularity in this gland can create various dental problems.
A person's overall health is affected by proper nutrition, and dental health is certainly influenced by it too. In particular, dentists have found that appropriate amounts of calcium and fluoride are important for dental health. There is however a major controversy on how much fluoride is necessary and how people should get it.
Homeopathic Insights on the Controversy of Fluoridation
The American Dental Association asserts that water fluoridation decreases dental caries by 50-70%. (4) Opponents of fluoridation question its value in preventing these dental problems and cite dozens of studies which show the toxic effects of fluoridation. Who's right?
The homeopathic point of view on fluoride is that it may be helpful in preventing caries and it may cause various other dental and health problems. The basic homeopathic principle is that a substance in microdose will help cure those similar symptoms that it will cause in larger dose. Fluoride is an effective medicine in preventing caries, but it can also mottle (turn chalky white or yellow) teeth and cause various other symptoms.
The essential question then is: what is the proper dose to prevent caries and what is the toxic dose? This questionis more difficult than it seems. People have varying needs, and what may be helpful to one person may be too much to another. A 1982 article in Science noted that the 1 part per million of fluoride which is commonly added to water may be too much after all. (5) The author noted that 28% of children between 11 and 13 years of age who lived in communities with fluoridation experienced mottling of the teeth.
Fluoride, as an enzyme poison, may in fact help reduce the formation of bacterial acid in the mouth that corrodes teeth. However, even in the same dose, fluoride may create various symptoms because of its side effects on bodily enzymes which are beneficial for health. A new study reported in the New Scientist has provided b evidence that "fluoride switches off the enzyme by attacking its weakest links--the delicately-balanced network of hydrogen bonds surround the enzyme's active site." (6) The researchers theorize that fluoride may interfere with the hydrogen bonding of DNA in the same way that it interferes with certain enzymes, which may then explain how fluoride can cause a wide variety of symptoms and syndromes.
Anti-fluoridationists readily acknowledge that dental caries declined significantly when fluoridation was first tested. However, they also cite the fact that dental caries declined for people in unfluoridated cities as well. (7)
According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, fluoride is not considered an essential nutrient. (8) A deficiency of fluoride is extremely unusual for those eating a standard American diet. Whereas the American Dental Association asserts that fluoridation assures that people will get amounts of fluoride that will prevent caries, anti-fluoridationists rebut that we are already getting enough, perhaps even too much. The anti-fluoridationists have expressed concern that additional fluoride in the diet will cause a wide variety of serious health problems. It has been estimated that dried cereals, ready-to-drink fruit juices, infant formula, and strained baby food processed with fluoridated water contain up to 20 times as much fluoride as products made with unfluoridated water. (9)
Those who oppose fluoride have been portrayed as wild-eyed, crazy, health nuts who see communist conspiracies in everything. This accusation has no basis in fact, especially when one considers that most countries in Europe have not fluoridated their water, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Holland, Denmark, Austria, and Belgium.
Further, recent scientific research has begun to verify several of the health concerns of the anti-fluoridationists. Dr. John Yiamouyiannis, a biochemist who is one of the leaders of the anti-fluoridation movement, noted that the mottling of teeth is "merely a reflection of the metabolic disturbances of soft tissue cells" from an overdose of fluoride. (10) The 1983 Physicians Desk Reference has noted that 1/2 milligram of fluoride, an amount equal to only one pint of fluoridate water, can cause skin problems, gastric distress, headaches, and weakness in hypersensitive individuals. Yale professor Dr. J.A. Albright reported that as little as one part per million of fluoride decreases bone strength and elasticity. (11) A study published in the Journal of Dental Research showed that one part per million of fluoride fed to animals inhibited their immune system. (12)
Research has also shown that levels of one-half to one part per million of fluoride causes increased tumor growth in mice by 15-25%. (13) Based on this research, one might expect that those who live in cities with fluoridated water may have a higher cancer rate than those who live in unfluoridated cities. Dr. Yiamouyiannis in conjunction with former chief chemist with the U.S. National Cancer Institute Dr. Dean Burk did this comparison and found that people living in fluoridated cities did, in fact, have higher cancer death rates than those in other cities in surrounding geographical areas. (14) However, a careful analysis of these statistics which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine noted that this study was not age-adjusted research.* (15) This critique of the Yiamouyiannis and Burk study indicates that there is no proven link between fluoridation and cancer.
[* Age-adjusted research is a means of comparing populations based on similar age groups. Without this adjustment certain cities with elderly populations would seem to have significantly higher death rates than other cities, which is just what happened in the Yiamouyiannis-Burk study.]
Although there may not be definate evidence that fluoridation may lead to cancer, many clinicians have found that it can cause diarrhea, muscular pains, excessive thirst and urination, episodes of acute abdominal pain, skin rashes, and progressive exhaustion. George Waldbott, M.D., a practicing allergist for over 50 years and author of Fluoridation: The Great Deilemma, has noted that many physicians misdiagnose this sensitivity as "nerves," and then prescribe drugs which ultimately exacerbate the problem. (16)
In addition to the potential problems that fluoride in water may cause, new research published in the highly respected scientific journal Nature has found that using fluorided water in aluminum pots tends to leech more aluminum into the food or water. (17) Since ingestion of aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer's disease, it may be prudent to avoid aluminum cookware, especially if one uses fluoridated water.
Whereas homeopathic organizations do not have a formal position on fluoridation, there is general acknowledgement in the homeopathic community that certain individuals in populations will be hypersensitive to fluoride. Although the American Dental Association (ADA) acknowledges this hypersensitivity in a very small number of Americans, homeopaths generally assume that there are greater numbers than those assumed by the A.D.A. There is also concern among homeopaths about what long-term exposure to small doses of fluoride may cause.
There is further concern among some homeopaths that fluoridation amounts to forced medication. Even those who get bottled water will receive additional fluoride as the result of increased fluoride in the food chain from watering fruits and vegetables, from washing fruits or vegetables in tap water, and from feeding fluoridated water to animals who will be consumed. Ralph Nader expressed a similar concern when he spoke at a college in 1974, saying, "Fluoridation has been promoted without giving consumers their free choice." (18)
Some anti-fluoridationists have flippantly advocated that we "fluoridate candy, not water." Perhaps even this isn't a good idea.
Amalgam Fillings: The Controversy
In 1840 the American Society of Dental Surgeons (ASDS) was formed, and it was America's first licensing body. This organization required that its members sign an oath affirming that they would not use mercury-containing materials in their dental fillings. The ADSD eventually died a couple of decades later and its rival organization, the American Dental Association, advocated for amalgam fillings. Throughout the ADA's history, some dentists have questioned the safety of these fillings.
Recently however, a small but growing group of ADA dentists are again expressing concern about amalgams. Amalgam fillings are primarily composed of mercury, silver, tin, and cooper. The anti-amalgam dentists assert that the oral cavity is the only place in the human body where we commonly place non-biological materials. These dentists also note that the upper teeth are less than 10 centimeters to the brain and that high concentrations of mercury found post-mortem in the brain have been correlated to the numbers and surfaces of the amalgam fillings. (19) They express further concern that we have never adequately tested the bio-compatibility of these metals. It is ironic, they note, that public health officials require that dentists keep their mercury in an airtight container and that they do not throw their excess mercury away in the trash, but must dispose of it in a carefully determined fashion. And yet, dentists readily place this toxic substance in people's mouths. In fact, over 85% of the American public have amalgam fillings in their mouth.