Keeping those pearly whites

Taking your child to the dentist can be overwhelming. Should we allow the x-ray? What about the fluoride treatment? Amalgam or composite filling? What is a safe toothpaste? The questions go on and on.

I will not claim to have all the answers, but I have done a lot of researching, and can at least offer some information I have learned that might help you when making those decisions.

Let’s start at the dentist’s office. After each topic I have offered my personal opinion if applicable. It is certainly not the “right” way to do it; instead it was just what I felt comfortable with. You get the pleasure of making that decision for yourself.

X-rays – The radiation that the body absorbs from an average dental x-ray is about 2 millirem (unit of measure for medical radiation). In comparison, the amount naturally absorbed on average by the body in our environment is 1 millirem per day. So, for instance, the two bitewing images they took of my daughters mouth on her last visit exposed her to 4 days worth of radiation concentrated in the tissues of the direct line of fire. What I could not find out was the impact of having that normal four-day amount of radiation concentrated in a few seconds in a specific area of the body. In my personal experience, I have allowed x-rays simply because it is an excellent tool for spotting problems before they occur, yet, I do not allow more than is absolutely necessary and have refrained from the full mouth series (multiple shots and angles) done on either of my children. In my opinion, the full mouth series was too much radiation for one little mouth on a given day.

Dental sealants – Sealants are plastic protective coverings, which are applied to the molars to help prevent cavities. Researchers in Spain have reported that sealants release an estrogenic compound, bisphenol A, into the mouth. If you remember my article about plastic, you remember that bisphenol A is used in many plastics, and is a known hormone disruptor. In all fairness, I should report that most U.S. research teams believe that American-made sealants do not leach detectable estrogenic compounds into the mouth, and are therefore safe for use in children. In my own experience, I have chosen to have sealants put on my daughter’s teeth, due to the fact that she has extremely deep grooved molars, just like I do, and no matter how well I brushed, I ended up with a few cavities.

Fillings (Amalgam or Composite) – This is one area where I have a very strong opinion. Composite fillings are the commonly used white fillings (sometimes called porcelain – but are really a special plastic). Although they can contain compounds like acrylate, aluminum, formaldehyde, hexane, phenol, polyurethane, strontium, toluene, and xylene; they do not contain mercury. Amalgams (silver colored fillings), on the other hand, by definition of the word means mixed with mercury, and in my opinion are best never to be put in any person’s mouth!

Crowns – When damage is too extensive on a tooth to use a filling, a crown (or cap) is sometimes needed. Crowns can be ceramic, ceramic on stainless steel, or stainless steel. The least toxic is the ceramic, although it contains aluminum. The stainless steel crown contains a lot of nickel, which is a known carcinogen, and the ceramic on stainless steel, although much more aesthetically pleasing than the plain stainless steel and less expensive than the ceramic, is not a great option due to chipping and containing both the aluminum and nickel. This was a hard decision for me. When the tooth is a primary molar (as is usually the case in children), the decision becomes how long will it last? Since we were going to need at least eight years out of this crown and since dental work requires complete sedation for my son, we opted for the stainless steel crown, which should last until his tooth falls out in the teenage years.

Fluoride – In short, ingested fluoride does nothing to help teeth, and in fact is very dangerous to the body, actually causing problems like dental and skeletal fluorosis. See a much more detailed explanation as to the harm done by ingested fluoride at Read their “Policy Position on Ingested Fluoride and Fluoridation.”

Even more alarming to me, is the way fluoride is manufactured for use in water supplementation. Pollution control devices are used by the phosphate industry to collect fluoride gases produced in the production of commercial fertilizer. After being collected, the hydrofluorosilicic acid, which is classified as hazardous waste, is sold across the nation. Hydrofluorosilicic acid is added to municipal water supplies as the primary fluoride chemical for water fluoridation.

Topical applications of fluoride have been shown to strengthen teeth as long as it is not swallowed, although many would still question its usefulness versus its safety. I take care that my family only drinks non-fluoridated water and uses only fluoride-free toothpaste. Yet, I do believe in the benefit of some topical fluoride. I allow a fluoride treatment to be done on my daughter’s teeth with each 6-month cleaning, especially since she understands not to swallow, and allows it to all flow up the tube with the rinse water.

If you feel strongly about using fluoride topically, and your child understands not to swallow. You can get a fluoride topical gel from your dentist. You can simply apply a very small amount to your finger and rub it across the surface of the teeth, then rinse the mouth with water and spit it out. This will cut down on the possibility of ingesting since it is applied directly to the teeth, and is not used with every brushing.

Toothpaste – To me this is one of the most important aspects of safety in dental health. The chemical and metal byproducts found in regular store bought toothpaste are frightening. The idea that you are not to swallow it is laughable with any child under 5, and plain hysterical when it comes to a child with special needs.

The dyes, artificial sweeteners, and flavors are enough to make you run. But, then include other chemicals, and it is simply a toxic mess. For instance, triclosan is a chemical found in many types of toothpaste. Triclosan’s chemical formulation and molecular structure are quite similar to dioxins and PCBs, some of the most toxic chemicals on earth. Many warn that not enough testing has been done to know the full effect of this chemical. In the UK, some stores have pulled products containing triclosan off the store shelves due to the fact that it can react with water to produce chloroform gas. When breathed in substantial quantities, chloroform can cause depression, liver problems, and even cancer in some cases.

So then there are the “natural” toothpastes. But even natural toothpastes can contain fluoride and most contain sodium lauryl sulfate or a derivative of it (SLS is a trigger for canker sores in the mouth as well as a known carcinogen).

I was determined that I could make my own toothpaste and be better off, but soon realized that my homemade toothpaste would simply be too hard on tooth enamel. So I am happy to say that I finally found one that I feel comfortable with, even if my son swallows some. It is made by Burt’s Bees and comes in Lavender Mint and Cinna-Mint. It does not feel like regular toothpaste because without the sodium lauryl sulfate it doesn’t foam up. I have to say that I use this exclusively for my children, but switch off with a Tom’s toothpaste for myself, to get that foamy tooth-brushing feel (I know, old habits die hard). Since Burt’s Bees is not a whitening toothpaste, I have found that brushing my children’s teeth with a wet toothbrush dipped in some baking soda once weekly, eliminates any stains that may have built up over the week.

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