“The terms oral health and general health should not be interpreted as
separate entities. Oral health is integral to general health: oral
health means more than healthy teeth and you cannot be healthy without
—Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services in Oral Health
America: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2000.
I couldn’t think of a better way to begin this booklet than to
underscore the effect of oral health on overall health. But just how
does her statement about oral health correlate to health and longevity?
It does because healthy people live longer and the quality of their
lives is far superior. There are a number of commonly known factors
related to the study of health and longevity that almost everyone will
recognize. Some of the more common factors include:
1. Healthy diet;
2. Intelligent nutritional supplementation;
3. Healthy lifestyle;
4. Elimination of harmful substances, such as tobacco, alcohol, and
5. Stress reduction;
6. Exercise; and
7. A healthy emotional and mental life.
Every proponent of optimal health understands the relationship between
these factors and health and longevity; without a doubt, they are all
important. However, I suggest that there is another factor missing from
this list, one that also plays an overlooked but significant role in
overall health. This factor is dental disease and its harmful effect on
the health of the body.
With that in mind, this booklet will focus on:
• How dental /oral disease, amalgam fillings, and dental materials can
affect one’s overall health;
• Why these issues are so important in regard to health and longevity;
• How physicians and other health professionals can help their clients
recognize the importance of this issue.
You will also discover that if dental disease, and other related oral
health issues, are not acknowledged as an obstacle to achieving overall
health, any efforts to accurately diagnosis a disease or illness, treat
the problem, improve health, and extend life; will be less effective;
and will often fall short of the desired goals. As you will see, dental
problems can effect many serious diseases and illnesses, ranging from
heart attack and stroke to idiopathic diseases, such as Meniere’s and
chronic fatigue syndrome.
A number of oral health issues can negatively affect general health. All
but one of the oral health problems listed below are the direct result
of dental disease, in one form or another. These oral health issues can
be divided into two distinct, but overlapping categories.
1. Dental/Oral disease. The most important of these in regard to their
impact on general health are:
a. Periodontal (gum) disease;
b. Infected root canals;
c. Cavitations (infected extraction sites); and
d. Other diseases of the oral cavity, such as
2. Amalgam fillings, fluoride, and non-compatible dental materials
All of these dental/oral issues can affect your general health and,
ultimately, longevity. Their impact is determined by the seriousness of
the related oral health problem(s), its duration, and how many of the
above dental issues are active at the same time. Thus, some individuals
may be dealing only with problems related to gum infections or amalgam
fillings, some with both problems, but there will be a significant
number of people whose health is compromised by all of these dental
Before I enter into the substantive area of this booklet, I feel it will
be useful to provide some background information about dental disease
and offer some insights into why it’s role in overall health is often
What is commonly referred to as dental disease is actually two separate
diseases: tooth decay and gum disease. You can have one without the
other or both simultaneously. The terms “gum disease” and “periodontal
disease” are often used interchangeably, even though periodontal disease
is much more destructive form of the disease. Technically, gum disease
is broken down into two categories: gingivitis, the initial and milder
form of gum disease, and periodontitis, the more advanced and serious
form that has infected both the soft tissue and the surrounding bone.
While the basic cause of tooth decay and gum disease is poor oral
hygiene (due to a lack of patient education and/or motivation) other
factors are involved. Diet, smoking, vitamin deficiency, and toxic
substances such as mercury can also contribute to dental disease. Of the
two diseases, gum disease, especially in its most advanced form, is the
most harmful to general health.
Certainly, tooth decay can affect one’s health. It can prevent proper
chewing and thereby affect digestion. It can also cause tooth loss,
again affecting digestion. Clearly, it can contribute to systemic health
problems, but its effects on overall health are considerably less than
the effects of gum disease.
Both forms of dental disease are so prevalent that it is an epidemic by
any standard. Ninety percent of the population has, or has had, some
form of these diseases. It is estimated that between 30 and 50% of the
population has periodontitis, the most destructive form of dental
disease (it is difficult to effectively gauge the percentage, as
approximately 50% of the population do not see a dentist on a regular
basis). Dental disease can cause:
• Gum disease;
• Tooth decay;
• Tooth loss;
• Bad breath; and
• Unsightly teeth.
Dental disease can also generate a great deal of stress. It can create
fear and anxiety, pain, and discomfort. It can also be very expensive,
especially when the cost of treatment is added up over a lifetime.
As destructive and costly as dental disease is, most people, including
dentists and physicians, have somehow managed to convince themselves
that its damaging effects are limited to the teeth and gums. I believe
this is because most people tend to think that the mouth is not actually
a part of the body . . . or it is some how ‘outside of the body’.
I also feel that there is a communication gap between the medical and
dental professions. This gap, in effect, means that vital information on
the overall health of the patient is not normally shared between the two
professions. But whatever the reason, the result is that most people,
including health professionals, do not understand the seriousness of
dental disease and its impact on overall health. Yet, it should be
obvious to any health professional that infection (especially a serious
and long-lasting—chronic—infection) in any part of the body will always
negatively affect the entire body.
Dental Disease and Its Effects on Overall Health
Because of its affect on the entire body, dental disease can no longer
be omitted from the subject of health and longevity. Dental disease is
not just a minor ailment of the gums and teeth. It is a disease of the
body that happens to begin in the mouth. If left unchecked, it can
contribute to other more harmful diseases that can seriously affect the
quality of life and actually shorten life expectancy. This means that
physicians must play a more active role in educating their patients
about the role dental disease plays in their overall health and why they
need to eliminate dental disease and restore their mouths to a healthy
and functional state.
For example, recent scientific studies clearly demonstrate the direct
and harmful role gum disease plays in many serious and life-threatening
diseases. For example, moderate-to-severe gum disease can:
• Increase the risk of heart attack by as much as 25%;
• Increase the risk of stroke by a factor of 10;
• Increase the severity of diabetes;
• Contribute to low pre-term birth weights;
• Contribute to respiratory disease;
• Interfere with proper digestion;
• Play a role in osteoporosis;
• Severely stress the immune system;
• Lower resistance to other infections; and
• Actually reduce life expectancy.
But because of its damaging effect on the immune system it can also
contribute, make worse, or trigger many diseases and health issues,
including such idiopathic (medical term applied to diseases of unknown
cause) diseases as Meniere’s, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFIDS) and
How Dental Disease Does Its Damage
Various forms of dental disease result in infection, which will always
affect overall systemic health—to one degree or another. Specific
infections directly related to dental disease can contribute to problems
such as periapical abscesses (infections of the dental nerve and
surround bone) and cavitations of the jaws (infections left when a tooth
However, the most serious damage done by dental disease is caused by the
more advanced form of gum disease. Every health practitioner understands
that the body is negatively affected by infection of any kind. The more
serious the infection, and the longer it is present, the greater its
potential for damaging overall health. Any infection stresses the immune
system. The extent of its effect on that system is directly related to
the extent, type, and duration, and location of the infection.
It is also important to understand that periodontal disease does not
just involve the soft tissue of the mouth. If left unchecked, gum
disease will progress until the underlying bone structure of the jaws is
infected. As the periodontal pocket continues to deepen it becomes a
haven for many types of harmful bacteria. Over time, the bacterial
infection continues to expand, exposing the circulatory system to ever
increasing numbers of virulent bacteria and their toxins. Remember, this
is the same blood that travels throughout the entire body and as such,
it can carry the bacteria and its toxins to other parts of the body,
including the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver.
Looking at it from another perspective will help you to better
understand the extent and seriousness of this oral infection. It has
been estimated that in a mild form of gum disease, if laid out flat, the
total infected area would be about the size of a postcard. In the case
of moderate-to-severe gum disease, the total infected area could cover
an area the size of a standard sheet of paper. Now, imagine if this
infected area was then transferred from the mouth to the neck (or any
other part of your body). If any competent health professional saw this
amount of infection in any part of the body he or she would consider
this to be a very serious infection and suggest immediate treatment.
Yet, this type of infection is present, and left untreated, in hundreds
of millions of people in the USA and worldwide.
The extent, location and severity of an infection is, of course,
important, but so is its duration. In the aforementioned example, such a
gum infection would be considered to be both acute and chronic. Meaning
it was serious and would be active 24 hours a day, 365 days per year;
for as long as the gum disease was present. Unfortunately, for tens of
millions of people, this infection could be present for many, many
years—progressively getting worse. It should no longer be difficult to
imagine the stress this infection places on the immune system.
Another important fact to consider is that dental infection may not
always be obvious or easily identified. Often, there is no pain or overt
symptoms. It is an insidious disease and, if left untreated, will
continue to destroy both gum tissue and the underlying bone. But whether
you are consciously aware of it or not, this infection poses a serious
threat to your overall health.
Dental Disease and Its Relationship to Other Diseases
An increasing number of studies demonstrate the relationship between
dental disease and other diseases of the body. I’ve provided a brief
description of the etiology (underlying cause) of dental disease and its
damaging effects. The following section will provide documentation that
conclusively links dental disease to other serious and life-threatening
Coronary heart disease results when arteries are narrowed or blocked by
plaque. Plaque usually consists of cholesterol, blood clotting proteins,
calcium and other substances. This narrowing is often referred to as
atherosclerosis. When this takes place in the arteries leading to and
around the heart, the result is coronary heart disease. Over time, the
blood supply to the heart muscle can be severely reduced or blocked,
depriving the heart of the oxygen it needs, resulting in a heart attack.
Basically, coronary heart disease precedes a heart attack and anything
that contributes to it could contribute to a heart attack. What is
significant here is that a number of studies directly link gum disease
to coronary heart disease and heart attack.
In one study, researchers found a relationship between dental disease
and the risk of dying. The study is noteworthy for a number of reasons.
It was conducted in the United States and included 9,760 subjects,
making the study (at that time) the largest of its kind. In addition,
several important discoveries resulted from this study.
The study concluded that those with periodontitis (the more advanced
form of gum disease) had a 25% increased risk of coronary heart disease
compared to those with minimal periodontal disease. It is interesting to
note that in this study, decay (dental caries) was not observed to be a
factor in coronary heart disease. In men under 50, periodontal disease
was an even stronger risk factor in coronary heart disease. In this
group, men with periodontitis had nearly twice the risk of coronary
heart disease than men who had little or no periodontal disease. In the
total population (men and women of all ages) the degree of dental debris
(dental plaque) and calculus (tartar), as reflected in the oral hygiene
index, was a stronger risk factor for coronary heart disease than was
the severity of periodontal disease.
In regard to longevity, the most noteworthy finding was that periodontal
disease and poor oral hygiene were stronger indicators of premature
death than of coronary heart disease. Young men who had a maximum oral
hygiene index of 6 had a three to four times higher risk of dying than
those who had a hygiene index of 0 (the higher the number the more
serious was the gum disease). In addition, young men with periodontitis
had a nearly threefold increased risk of death from coronary heart
disease and about a 50% increased risk of admission to hospital for
coronary heart disease then those without it.
When compared to subjects with little or no periodontal disease,
individuals with gingivitis (the less severe form of periodontal
disease) had an approximately 23% higher risk of premature death. Those
with periodontitis, or no teeth, had about a 50% higher risk of dying.
From a health standpoint, these findings could be significant because
gingivitis is far more common than the more severe form of the disease.
But left un-treated, gingivitis will quickly lead to the more severe
form of gum disease.
Another study, K. J. Matilla explored the relationship between oral
health and heart attack. It also examined the role of chronic bacterial
infections as risk factors for coronary heart disease and the
association between poor dental health and acute myocardial infarction
(heart attack). The selected patients had worse dental health than
controls matched for age and sex. The study showed that the relationship
between dental health and heart attack remained significant even after
adjustment for age, social class, hypertension, serum lipid and
lipoprotein concentrations, smoking, presence of diabetes, and serum C
peptide concentration (which reflects resistance to insulin).
The study concluded that bacterial endotoxin or similar factors may be
related to myocardial infarction and poor dental health and could not be
excluded as causative factors.
Heart Attack and Tooth Loss
A study by K. Paunio showed a relationship between missing teeth and
coronary heart disease. I find this significant because both periodontal
disease and decay can cause tooth loss. While some studies have shown
that decay is not a direct risk factor in heart attack, it can and does
cause tooth loss, which has been demonstrated to be a secondary factor
in heart attack.
Dental infections have also been associated with stroke. A study by J.
Syrjänen showed a relationship between dental infections and a bacterial
infection associated with cerebral infarction (stroke) in males. Another
study demonstrated that preceding infection is an important risk factor
for stroke, even when controlled for other established common risk
factors, such as high blood pressure, smoking and alcohol use.
All dental and periodontal infections are of bacterial origin. The
causative organisms include a number of harmful bacteria. Dental
procedures can cause transient bacteremia (presence of bacteria in the
blood), but even chewing can induce increased levels of bacteria in the
blood in the presence of poor oral health.
In addition to the well-known association between abnormal levels of
lipid (fat) in the blood and the narrowing and hardening of the arteries
(atherosclerosis), researchers also found an association between
elevated total dental index (TDI) and atherosclerosis, independent of
dietary habits. This suggests that factors associated with gum disease
may contribute to the cause of atherosclerosis and chronic infections
could affect the development of hardening of the arteries by toxic
In a more recent study, researchers examined the relationship between
stroke and chronic and recurrent infection. They found that chronic
bronchial infection and poor dental health (primarily from chronic gum
infection) may be associated with an increased risk for stroke (cerebrovascular
ischemia). The results of this study suggest that, independent from
established vascular risk factors, symptoms of recurrent or chronic
bronchitis and poor dental health may be associated with stroke.
Gum disease and root canal infections appear as main contributors in the
role of chronic dental disease. Interestingly, infections in the jaw
bone resulting from an infected root canal (caused by decay) are also a
factor in stroke risk. This is another example of how decay can play a
role, however indirectly, in heart disease.
It has long been known that diabetes affects periodontal disease. New
studies show that the reverse is also true: periodontal disease can
In an important work by B.L. Mealy, the author cites numerous studies
that indicate that the presence and severity of gum disease can increase
the risk of poor glycemic control. One study clearly illustrates the
relationship between gum disease and diabetes. When compared to diabetic
patients with minimal gum disease, those with severe gum disease have a
significantly greater prevalence of protein in the urine (proteinuria)
and a greater number of cardiovascular complications. These include
stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA)—a stroke-like event lasting
minutes, or hours, that occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen-rich
blood but in which the effects wear off completely after resumption of
blood-flow. The study concludes that the association between disease
related to diabetes and severe periodontitis in diabetic individuals
requires attention and close cooperation between the physician and
Several other studies reported by Mealy state that treating periodontal
complications implicated in diabetes may actually improve metabolic
control of the underlying diabetic disease state.
These studies are important for at least two reasons. First, periodontal
disease has been shown to affect the control of diabetes. Second, the
American Heart Association now includes diabetes as a major risk factor
for heart disease, ranking it with high blood pressure and smoking.
Thus, we witness an unfortunate connection: diabetes is on the rise; it
is a risk factor for heart disease; and periodontal disease is a risk
factor in both.
Low Pre-term Birth Weight
The health and financial problems associated with low pre-term birth
weight babies (weighing less than 2,500g at birth) are significant. One
study illustrated that these infants are 40 times more likely to die in
the neonatal period than normal birth weight infants. At birth,
approximately 7% of all babies are in the low birth weight category, yet
these babies account for two-thirds of all neonatal deaths.
In another significant study by Offenbacher, et al, researchers found
that low birth weight is still the number one cause of infant mortality.
It also causes many long-term health problems, including an increased
risk of cerebral palsy, epilepsy, chronic lung disease, learning
disabilities and attention deficit disorder. The cost, both financially
and emotionally, of low preterm birth weight babies is tremendous. In
the United States, 1 in 10 births are low birth weight babies. They
account for 5 million neonatal intensive care unit hospital days per
year at an annual cost of more than $5 billion. The overall cost in
terms of suffering and long-term disabilities far exceeds the monetary
costs of this problem.
The authors of this breakthrough study have provided new evidence that
periodontal disease in pregnant women may be a significant risk factor
for low birth preterm weight. The study suggests that 18% of all
pre-term low birth weight cases may be attributable to periodontal
disease. It also notes that gum disease represents a previously
unrecognized and clinically important risk factor for pre-term low birth
Mealy’s evaluation of a number of studies on respiratory infections
suggests that the oral cavity acts as a reservoir for bacteria that can
find its way into the lungs. These studies indicate that mouth and
throat bacterial colonization precedes bacterial respiratory infection.
While no current studies specifically demonstrate a direct correlation,
there is strong evidence that one exists.
There is also evidence that the gum pocket may be the source of the
respiratory bacteria. A number of bacterial organisms believed to be
common in infected gum pockets have been found in bacterial pneumonia.
In one study, researchers isolated a number of bacterial species from a
case report of pneumonia. Upon clinical examination, the author’s only
significant finding was “marked periodontitis”, indicating that the
bacteria originated in the gum pocket.
Another important study found that the substances that initiate
respiratory infections most often originate from the periodontal pocket.
The study showed that these organisms can produce respiratory diseases,
such as pulmonary abscesses, resulting in a significant disease and even
Researchers at the University of Buffalo, led by Jean Wactawski-Wende,
reported that most people diagnosed with periodontal disease may be at a
higher risk of underlying osteoporosis. This study, conducted in 1995
and published in the Journal of Periodontology, is the first large-scale
assessment of the relationship between bone metabolism and oral health.
The authors reported that if the relationship remains strong in further
studies, it is possible that a routine dental X-ray could be used to
screen for bone loss. In addition, dentists could provide education and
treatment for gum disease that could combat oral bone and tooth loss and
possibly reduce the extent of osteporosis.
This landmark study is important because both osteoporosis and
periodontal disease are serious public health concerns for tens of
millions of North Americans. Osteoporosis affects more than 20 million
people in the U.S. and accounts for nearly 2 million fractures a year.
To date, the most significant relationship between dental disease and
gastrointestinal disorders is from tooth loss. The edentulous (without
teeth) patient, is the most vulnerable to gastrointestinal and other
However, one study showed that those with dentures are also subject to
numerous health problems, directly related to their inability to
properly chew their food. This study concluded that most of the subjects
showed a low chewing (masticatory) performance classification. These
subjects took more medication for gastrointestinal disorders than those
with a higher chewing performance. Poor chewing was also associated with
a decrease in vitamin A and fiber intake, which was mainly the result of
lower intakes of fruits and vegetables. This condition seemed more
likely to affect women in the study. In the edentulous person, with a
deficient chewing performance, reduced consumption of fiber-rich foods
that are hard to chew could provoke gastrointestinal disturbances and
affect overall health.
Research indicates that changes in food preferences and subsequent
nutrient/vitamin deficiencies are associated with tooth loss. One study
provided a sound basis for why the denture wearer does not achieve the
necessary breakdown of food substances. The research indicated that the
chewing efficiency of those wearing dentures was about one-sixth that of
a person with natural teeth. In addition, evidence suggests that
nutritional deficiencies, regardless of their cause, are associated with
impaired immune responses. One obvious conclusion is that a person with
dentures would need to chew his or her food 6 times as long as a person
with natural teeth.
In another important study, researchers collected dietary intake data
about the food and nutrient intake of 49,501 male health professionals.
The results showed that toothless participants consumed fewer vegetables
and less fiber and carotene, and had higher cholesterol, saturated fat,
and calories than participants with 25 or more teeth. They concluded
that these factors could increase the risks of cancer and cardiovascular
I would again like to point out that the vast majority of tooth loss is
caused by dental disease, either decay or periodontal disease. It is
true that once the teeth have been removed, periodontal disease, and its
resultant infection, will be eliminated. But as the above studies point
out, the problems facing edentulous individuals do not end with the
elimination of periodontal infection. In fact, they face an entirely new
set of health problems.
Health professionals understand that infection stresses the immune
system. It is also obvious that the more serious the infection and the
longer it persists, the more the immune system is affected. At some
point, the immune system can become so compromised that its ability to
resist additional infections and diseases could be seriously diminished.
This weakness could put the various body systems at risk and create a
domino effect in regard to diseases and infections.
We also know that when the immune system is compromised any health
problem directly or indirectly related to it will be negatively
affected. It is obvious that dental infections, especially periodontal
disease, periapical abscesses and cavitations, have a deleterious affect
on the immune system and would jeopardize the successful treatment of
any medical treatment for any immune related disease.
Source of Information
Space does not allow me the option of adequately covering the cause of
and the prevention of dental disease. There is much more to learn about
this subject if you hope to free yourself from this disease, including
how to use your preventive dental tools and how to effectively utilize
the dentist and dental hygienist to support your efforts. The
information you need to accomplish your goals can be found in Tooth
Fitness: Your Guide to Healthy Teeth. You can purchase this book and
access other important information about oral health and its
relationship to overall health on my website: www.dentatlwellness4u.com.
Other Dental Issues Affecting Health and Longevity
Infections are not the only dental issues confronting individuals who
wish to free themselves of existing disease, improve their health and
extend their lives. Nor is oral infection the only dental issue that the
physician and other health professionals must consider. A number of
other dental issues can increase the risk and severity of other, more
serious diseases. They are:
1. Fillings (amalgam/silver amalgam) containing mercury;
2. Failed root canals;
3. Infected extraction sites (cavitations);
4. Signs and symptoms of other diseases; and
5. Sensitivity to dental materials.
Amalgam Fillings and the Mercury Issue
Mercury is the most toxic, naturally occurring metal on this planet. It
is a potent poison, more toxic than arsenic, and even one molecule in
the body will do it harm. Research indicates that even minute levels of
mercury can have negative health consequences, which can vary from
person to person depending on a number of factors. Because of its
extreme toxicity, there is no doubt in my mind that mercury can cause,
contribute, or make worse every health problem we face. Symptoms of
mercury poisoning can range from mild to severe, and it can be fatal in
There are a number of ways we can be exposed to mercury, but amalgam
fillings are the greatest source of mercury exposure for those with
these fillings. While acute mercury poisoning is rare, every person with
amalgam fillings is being subjected to chronic mercury poisoning, to one
degree or another.
Each medium-sized amalgam filling contains about 50% elemental mercury,
or about 1,000 milligrams of mercury. Numerous studies have proven that
mercury vapor is released from amalgam fillings. Up to 80% of that vapor
is absorbed by the lungs and passes into the blood. >From there it is
transported throughout the body, including the brain and central nervous
When mercury from amalgam fillings (or other heavy metals) enter the
body and accumulate faster than the body can remove them, they will
gradually build up until early symptoms of chronic mercury poisoning are
expressed. In the filling, mercury is in its elemental state. However,
when elemental mercury is released from the filling, bacteria can change
it in the mouth and intestine to an even more toxic (100 times as toxic)
form of organic mercury, called methyl mercury.
Toxic levels of mercury are measured in micrograms. This is an extremely
small amount. For example, one microgram is equal to one-millionth of a
gram (28.4 grams equals 1 ounce). Depending on the number of amalgam
fillings present, measurements of mercury vapor in the mouth can range
from between 20 and 400mcg/m3 (microgram of mercury per cubic meter of
air) or more. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized a
time-weighted average (TWA) for occupational exposure to mercury vapor
at 25 mcg/m3. If set higher it believes that those individuals most
sensitive to mercury toxicity are the young, the elderly, the fetus and
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) takes the
most prudent and realistic approach to mercury vapor exposure. After a
lengthy study it established a minimal risk level (MRL) of 0.2 mcg/m3 of
air. According to the agency, this is the upper limit to which a person
can be continuously exposed to without exhibiting any observable
effects. This makes the most sense because anyone with amalgam fillings
is being exposed to varying amounts of mercury vapor 24 hours a day, 365
days a year. As you can readily see, in many people with amalgam
fillings the amount of mercury they are being exposed to daily can
exceed the safe levels established by many regulatory agencies.
Mercury is classified as a neurotoxin and the toxicity of mercury is
undisputed. Chronic mercury poisoning can impair the blood and
cardiovascular system. It can cause genetic mutations and can interfere
with, or overload, the natural detoxification pathways of the liver,
kidneys, skin, and bowel. It can impair the function of the nervous,
endocrine, enzymatic, gastrointestinal, reproductive, and urinary
systems. It can increase allergic reactions and act as a harmful
antibiotic, killing both good and harmful bacteria in the gut. Mercury
can also cause a great deal of tissue damage by creating an abundance of
free radicals, suspected to be one of the underlying causes of all
One study indicated that mercury can interfere with leukocytes. It also
showed how it could not only compromise the body’s natural defenses, but
also promote tissue injury via the local production of oxygen free
radicals. Another study demonstrated that mercury can inactivate
neutrophils. These important immune system components are responsible
for killing fungi inside the body (blood and soft tissue). Mercury
toxicity was also shown to inhibit their ability to kill Candida.
But mercury can also have devastating secondary effects on the body by
depleting it of the important antioxidants the body needs to not only
remove mercury and other heavy metals, but to fight free radicals and
other toxins. This happens because each atom of mercury that is removed
from the body requires an escort of 1 to 2 molecules of glutathione (the
body’s most abundant and important antioxidant for removing mercury and
other heavy metals). As you can see, over time, more and more
glutathione is lost, creating a deficiency of it and an increase in
mercury being stored in the body. This indirect, or secondary, effect of
mercury is devastating to the immune system and can seriously reduce the
body’s ability to deal with other diseases.
Yet, not everyone with amalgam fillings shows signs or has obvious
symptoms of mercury toxicity. Mostly, this is related to the number of
fillings, the length of time the fillings have been in the mouth, the
health of the individual, and the body’s ability to naturally rid itself
of mercury. I believe that if you now have—even if you haven’t yet shown
any symptoms of chronic mercury poisoning—the chances are very good that
more and more mercury is being stored in your body. There is no doubt in
my mind that chronic mercury poisoning can be the most important oral
health issue to consider when treating any health problem. Of course,
there are hundreds of millions of people who have both mercury amalgam
fillings and gum disease; the combination of which could dramatically
weaken the body’s ability to deal effectively deal with all other health
There are many sources of mercury exposure, including food (mostly
mercury contaminated fish), air, water, cosmetics, medications, and
industrial occupations. However, according to the World Health
Organization, the single biggest contributor of mercury to the body is
A wide variety of symptoms are related to mercury toxicity. Because
mercury can be stored in virtually every cell, organ, and tissue
(particularly the brain, kidneys, and central nervous system) of the
body, its range of symptoms are vast. Of course, other health issues
could contribute to these symptoms, or even cause them; clearly, no
single symptom is specific to mercury poisoning. But it is also
important to realize that mercury related symptoms are directly
proportionate to the number of fillings you have and the length of time
they have been in the teeth. Although this is a long list, I feel it
important to include it here. You can use this as a checklist (see
Figure 1) when determining whether or not you may have mercury related
symptoms. (The symptoms listed are those commonly related to the direct
effects of chronic mercury poisoning. Because of its secondary effects
this list could be much longer.)
c. Learning disorders
d. Lack of concentration
b. Irregular heartbeat
c. Pain in
b. Ringing in ears
a. Mood swings
b. Fits of rage
c. Fear and nervousness
6. Digestive System
a. Loss of
c. Loss of
a. Chronic coughing
b. Bleeding gums
c. Bone loss
d. Metallic taste
Inflammation of the gums
g. Ulcers of oral cavity
h. Mouth inflammation
i. Sore throat
a. Inflammation of the nose
c. Excessive mucus formation
d. Stuffy nose
e. Frequent illnesses
f. Sense of
h. Unspecified allergies
b. Shortness of breath
The controversy about dental amalgams that you may have heard about has
absolutely nothing to do with the toxicity of mercury; rather, it is
about whether or not mercury is released from an amalgam filling in
quantities great enough to cause health problems. It is scientifically
known that any amount of mercury in the body will cause harm and the
more that is present the more harm will be caused. We also know without
a doubt that mercury is released from amalgam fillings. In spite of that
fact, the ADA continues to say that no one with these fillings need
worry because not enough is released to cause any health problems;
except those who are allergic to mercury.
They are as wrong today as they were 150 years ago. In a majority of
those with amalgam fillings, it is impossible for the body to remove all
of the mercury it is exposed to from them and other sources of mercury.
That which cannot be removed accumulates in the body and over time it
can cause innumerable health problems to tens of millions of people.
This booklet does not allow me the space to explain the many variables
that play a role in determining the numerous long-term effects of the
mercury released from amalgam fillings. But it should provide enough
information for you to acknowledge that mercury could be a major factor
in nearly every health problem we know of. If you would like to explore
this subject in more detail, I suggest you read A Mouth Full of Poison:
The Truth about Mercury Amalgam Fillings and Your Complete Guide to
Mercury Detoxification: How to Safely Remove Mercury from Your Teeth and
Body. These books are available at www.dentalwellness4u.com.
Galvanic Effect of Dental Fillings
Dental fillings have also been shown to exert a galvanic effect in the
mouth when two dissimilar fillings (i.e., gold and amalgam fillings) are
present. This battery-like effect has been shown to corrode to the less
noble filling material, notably amalgams. As the other metal components
of amalgam are pulled out of the filling, mercury vapor can be released.
The severity of this action depends on the number of fillings present
and their relationship to each other.
In addition, the current that is generated in this process is thought to
interfere with energy flow along acupuncture meridians. The belief is
that the resultant current blockage can eventually affect the organs
along the corresponding acupuncture meridian. Anyone who is utilizing
acupuncture as part of their treatment regime should consider them. I
also believe that Meniere’s suffers should consider this effect as a
potential symptom trigger.
The idea that a root canal can cause health problems is not new. In the
1930s and 40s, Dr. Weston Price dealt with this subject in two classic
books, Dental Infections-Oral and Systemic, Volume I, and Dental
Infections and the Degenerative Diseases. The subject of root canals and
their relation to general health is also thoroughly examined in Dr.
George Meining’s book, Root Canal Cover-up.
This concept is called the “focal infection theory.” It is based on the
fact that traditional root canal therapy cannot guarantee that the
tooth’s root canal, and the thousands of tubules that radiate out from
the canal, can always be effectively sterilized by root canal treatment.
The theory proposes that an infection existing in one part of the body
(in this case the root canal and chamber) can be transferred, via the
circulatory system, to other parts of the body, where they can initiate
an entirely new infection. It is believed that such an infection,
resulting from an infected root canal, can migrate and infect the
kidneys, the heart, intestines, and other sites. Some researchers claim
that health problems resulting from root canals rank in severity right
behind mercury/amalgam fillings.
In 1998, approximately 60 million root canals were performed. While I do
not believe that every root canal will be a source of focal infection, I
do believe it must be considered when attempting to diagnose an illness
or symptom. The root canals that I consider to be at risk are those
whose infection has spread to the bone surrounding the root tip. Looking
to the mouth as a source of chronic infection is especially important
when the source of a health problem is elusive or an accurate diagnosis
that fits the symptoms cannot be made.
Cavitation is a relatively new dental term. It refers to the destruction
of bone in the area where a tooth has been extracted. One of the most
common problems that can result from a cavitation is a neuralgia
inducing cavitational osteonecrosis (NICO). According to experts, if the
tooth is not removed properly, incomplete healing can take place,
leaving a hole or spongy place inside the jawbone. In some cases,
particles of the periodontal membrane, along with bacteria, can be left
behind, becoming a breeding ground for bacteria and their toxins.
Studies indicate that the bacterial waste products can be extremely
potent. Cavitations are also believed to contribute to focal infections.
They can have an impact on systemic health and could cause various
levels of stress.
Signs and Symptoms of Other Diseases
Diseases whose early signs and symptoms appear in the mouth can affect
the patient’s health and life expectancy. Of these, oral cancer is of
primary concern. More than 30,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer
each year. If the cancer is caught early, the five-year survival rate is
90%. If it isn’t caught early, the survival rate drops to 50%. While
most dentists include this in their oral examination you cannot afford
to take it for granted. Always remind the dentist or hygienist to
include this examination.
There are as many as 25 diseases of the body whose early signs and
symptoms can be seen in the oral cavity. The early detection of any of
these diseases increases the possibility of successful treatment, and
may extend or even save lives. Some of the more serious diseases that
first show signs in the oral cavity, lips, or tongue, include leukemia,
hemophilia, Kaposi’s sarcoma, malignant melanoma, syphilis, diabetes,
squamous cell carcinoma, myoblastoma, tuberculosis, epilepsy, and
hemangioma. My book, Tooth Fitness: Your Guide to Healthy Teeth,
includes an educational chapter about patient oral self-examination and
its importance to dental and overall health.
Sensitivity to Dental Materials
Sensitivity to dental materials may not be a serious problem for many
people. But for those who are allergic to any one of the hundreds of
different metals, compounds, chemicals, and products used in dentistry,
these materials present a potentially serious health hazard. If you have
allergies, regardless of their source, your health practitioner may look
at every potential source of the allergy except for the mouth. If you he
or she is unable to track down the culprit, I recommend that you be
tested for potential allergic reaction to dental materials. Information
about this test can be found at www.ccrlab.com, the website for Clifford
Consulting and Research.
Although it poses a potentially serious health hazard, the subject of
fluoride is not within the scope of this booklet. It does relate to
teeth, but is not really a dental health issue. I see it as a public
health issue, as the greatest single source of fluoride is delivered to
the individual via the municipal water systems. Regardless of how it is
delivered, fluoride is a poison, and increasing evidence suggests it can
create, or contribute, to numerous health problems. I also suggest
asking your health professional to evaluate you for potential fluoride
toxicity when doing a complete health assessment. This would be
particularly important if he or she can’t establish a diagnosis that
fits your symptoms. Thus those with idiopathic diseases should take this
It should be noted that today people are exposed to greater quantities
of fluoride than 25 years ago. At that time, the major source of
fluoride exposure was fluoridated water. Today, it is also found in
mouthwash, toothpaste, rinses, and tablets. Some evidence shows that
fluorosis has caused dental fluorosis (unsightly stained and pitted
enamel) in children in areas where the water isn’t even fluoridated. No
one knows how much fluoride each individual is getting. Fluoride
toxicity is definitely something to watch for, especially in communities
where the water is fluoridated.
Topical fluoride applied at the dental office has been shown to
effectively reduce decay in individuals whose teeth are susceptible to
it. I don’t have a problem with this form of application as it is
controlled and little, if any, will be ingested. The key to fluoride
toxicity is that it has to enter the body and thus topical application
of it, done properly, prevents that occurrence. But I do have a concern
about high fluoride concentrations applied to the teeth of young
children without adequate protection against ingestion. There have been
documented cases of fluoride toxicity when very young children swallowed
an excessive amount of topical fluoride gel.
I previously mentioned the relationship of oral health to diseases that
are idiopathic, or those we don’t know, or are uncertain, of their
In a very real sense the idiopathic (unknown) aspect makes it imperative
that those that are dealing with any idiopathic disease or illness MUST
consider every health problem as a potential cause or contributor of
their problem. I say this because any of them, or any combination of
them, could be a contributing factor. The only way to actually know
which ones may be involved in an idiopathic health issue is to eliminate
each of them and let the body tell you what role it has played. As oral
health is in my area of expertise, I have listed those oral health
issues that I KNOW have an effect, some very serious such as amalgam
fillings/chronic mercury poisoning and gum disease. But all oral health
issues must be evaluated and dealt with.
I will take Meniere’s Syndrome/Disease as an example. There are a number
of symptoms that, when taken together, comprise Meniere’s syndrome. But
not only are we not sure what caused the disease, we are just as
uncertain about what trigger’s the symptoms associated with Meniere’s.
Thus, there could be a genetic cause that predisposes this condition and
other factors that are involved in the triggering of symptoms. We just
don’t know. But what I suggest be considered is that stress, in whatever
form, could easily trigger the various symptoms.
We know that stress takes many forms. We know that emotional,
psychological and physical stress can lower the body’s resistance to
disease. In short, stress makes us more vulnerable to disease. Well, the
reverse is also true and all disease causes stress; some more than
others but all stress the body. It would seem logical to assume that
anyone with Meniere’s, or any other idiopathic disease, would want to do
everything possible to eliminate every form of stress. This may be
easier said than done but I believe every effort must be made if you
want to reduce or eliminate any potential triggering effect.
It is not in my area of expertise to tell you how to deal with other
avenues of stress in your life but I will encourage you to make your
best effort to eliminate all oral health issues. The first step includes
a complete oral health evaluation. You must know what is wrong before
you can effective treat it.
Even if a thorough evaluation shows that a person with Meniere’s doesn’t
have ANY of these oral health problems he or she will have accomplished
a great deal by eliminating a number of potential triggers. That means
one can move on to other health issues as a potential cause.
I’ve run into those that try to isolate a particular problem, such as
Meniere’s or CFS, as if their major health issue doesn’t involve the
rest of the body. They attempt to focus treatment solely in that one
area and although they generally get some relief from that approach, if
it is also related to other health issues, they can never hope to truly
eliminate their problem. Plus, not doing so will still leave them
vulnerable to the side effects of those other health problems in the
So while it would be truly wonderful to know a specific cause for
Meniere’s, it is still in a person’s best interest to achieve optimal
health. So looked at in the right way the idiopathic aspect can really
become a motivating factor to identify and eliminate other health
The two oral health issues that I believe can contribute to, cause, or
trigger Meniere’s symptoms, are mercury amalgam fillings and gum
disease. But because of its effect on the immune system I also believe
it would be important to consider the individual’s sensitivity to dental
materials and the galvanic effect of dental fillings.
Real Age Evaluation
It would be appropriate to end this booklet with some insightful
comments about the effects of dental disease on longevity, by Dr.
Michael F. Roizen. In his classic book, Real Age: Are You as Young as
You Can Be? he offers a revolutionary, systematic approach to
calculating the aging effect of more than 100 different health
behaviors. These range from diet and medication to stress control and
Dr. Rozen cited one study that showed people with gingivitis and
periodontitis have a 23% to 46% higher mortality rate. Another study
indicated that men under age 50, who have advanced periodontal disease,
are 2.6 times more likely to die prematurely and three times more likely
to die from heart disease than those who have healthy teeth and gums.
Both studies considered other pertinent factors, such as smoking,
alcohol, and overeating. Studies have also shown that a bacterial strain
commonly found in tooth plaque has also been found in the fatty deposits
that clog arteries. Other studies demonstrate that periodontal disease
increases the white blood cell count, an indicator that the immune
system is under increased stress.
Dr. Roizen concluded that dental disease and tooth loss doesn’t just
make you look older, they actually make you older. Indeed, periodontal
disease can make our Real Age more than 3.4 years older. Conversely, the
absence of periodontal diseases makes you 6.4 years younger than the
As a person concerned about your health it is your responsibility to do
all you can to not only extend your life but to also improve its
quality. This has to extent to considering the effect of your oral
health on your overall health.
The long-held belief that dental disease is a localized, minor disease
that only affects the teeth and gums, has not withstood the test of
time. Dental disease, and other issues related to the mouth, can and do
contribute to serious health problems. They can also interfere with
successful medical treatment and healing and can actually shorten life
I believe that the evidence supporting the role of dental disease in
systemic diseases is conclusive. As a patient, you cannot afford to
overlook this relationship when seeking treatment for any disease or for
attempting to extend life expectancy and improve the quality of your
life. If you suffer from any of the symptoms or diseases referred to in
this chapter, you must determine if periodontal disease, amalgam
fillings, or another oral issue could be contributing to its cause or
severity. Certainly, you want to ensure that you have at least
eliminated dental disease or mercury poisoning as a possible cause of,
or contributor to, your existing health problems.
Neglecting the issue of dental health, in my opinion, jeopardizes the
success of treatment and could lead to disappointing outcomes. It could
also result in great frustration for you and your health practitioner.
Discussing problems without offering solutions does not have much value.
Therefore, I will offer some solutions to help you address the problems
of dental disease and its effects on overall health.
I am not suggesting that you become a dentist yet, it is vitally
important to address the issue of oral health, especially since it could
affect the success of any treatment you may now be undergoing.
Everyone understands that successful treatment hinges on making an
accurate diagnosis. In order to make a truly ‘whole body’ diagnosis you,
your dentist and your health professional, must know the state of your
My suggestion is that you make an appointment with your dentist to
determine the following:
1. Your total periodontal health;
2. Whether or not you have any infected root canals;
3. The condition of any extraction sites;
4. Whether or not you have, or have had, amalgam fillings,
including how many;
5. Whether or not you have been examined for other diseases whose
early signs and symptoms are found in the oral cavity.
If the results show that you have no existing oral health problems it
will allow you to at least eliminate these oral health issues as a
potential health risk factor. If the report shows that oral health
problems exist, you will be doing yourself a service by knowing that you
can now take the necessary steps necessary to deal with these oral
issues. It is also imperative to understand that prevention is something
that is done by you, not to you. But you can ask for the support of your
dental and medical professionals. If you are willing to do your part,
any treatment for your health problems will be more successful.
Tom McGuire, DDS
The Dental Wellness Institute
321 S. Main St., # 503
Sebastopol, CA 95472
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