Dr. Robert F. Kidd    

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Dental and General Health

See also: Mercury Poisoning from Dental Amalgams

Almost everyone knows that good teeth are needed for chewing, and chewing is the first step in digestion. However few people know that teeth are important to health and disease in many other ways.

Teeth are enormously strong, but are unusual in the body in that they cannot repair themselves when damaged or decayed. Fortunately we are given 32 of them (more or less) by the time we mature, and we can afford to lose some without much harm being done.

When a dental problem results in pain, it is usually clear where the problem is. The dentist can find it and fix it and that is the end of the problem. However dental problems do not always declare themselves with pain. The nerve in the tooth may be dead or infection outside the tooth may simply be painless. These situations are often overlooked by the patient, by his (or her) dentist, and almost certainly by his (or her) doctor.

A painless infection in or near a tooth is usually dealt with by the body's immune system. If the immune system is strong, the infection is 'walled off' and the body is kept safe. However the infection may persist for many years and come to the surface again when the body's immunity fails. This may happen during a period of stress or nutritional deficiency and lead to problems not just in or near the teeth. Very seldom is anyone aware that an occult (i.e. hidden) infection is playing a role in a disease.

Complicating matters are the risks of modern dentistry. Dentists repair teeth by using artificial materials that are foreign to the body. Dentistry is aware of these risks and attempts to use materials that have minimal effect on human physiology. However despite these precautions, no material is safe in all people under all circumstances. There is always some risk. The challenge is to identify when there is a risk, preferably before using a material, and if not before, at least after.

Dental materials have the potential to affect health in a number of ways. One is by the leakage of toxic elements as material deteriorates with time. Mercury poisoning from amalgam fillings is the best example. 'Off-gassing' of volatile substances from the newer plastic and ceramic materials is a theoretical possibility also, but is probably a much lower risk than the known effects of mercury.

Toxic elements can affect general health, but can also weaken the gums and lead to infection, (or periodontal disease). Periodontal infection is increasingly being shown to be a risk factor in coronary artery atherosclerosis. There is some evidence that periodontal infections are involved in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, and systemic lupus erythematosis ('lupus'). In the first half of the 20th century it was not unusual for physicians to recommend extraction of infected teeth as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.

An especially dangerous type of infection in the teeth or gums is one caused by anaerobic bacteria. These are bacteria that can survive without oxygen and which set up house in places where there is poor circulation. An ideal spot is the inside of a dead tooth (a root canal). Although dentists make every effort to sterilise the inside of the tooth before placing a root canal filling, it is impossible to make them entirely clean.

These bacteria do not have to leave their location to do damage. They secrete toxins, which can have far reaching effects on many parts of the body. These toxins are similar to those causing botulism and tetanus, some of the most lethal known to man. Because the dead tooth is silent, almost never is the 'sick tooth' suspected. For more on this topic, George Meinig's book, The Root Canal Cover-up (available from this office) is recommended.

Another possible risk of dental materials is allergy. Any dental material can provoke an allergic reaction, and symptoms are not always confined to the mouth. Walter Clifford of Clifford Consulting and Research has developed a method of testing individual sensitivity to dental materials through serum. Awareness of dental material allergy can sometimes be the key to solving seemingly bizarre medical problems.

The mouth is one of the most sensitive parts of the body. A large part of the sensory cortex of the brain is devoted to it and for good reason. The body needs to know what is going into the mouth and it evaluates it in a number of ways. Taste, smell and touch are obvious qualities that the sensory organs are able to assess. Less known is 'energetic' properties, (probably a primitive ability to perceive the proximity of substances or objects). The mouth is richly supplied with energetic connections to the acupuncture meridian system of oriental medicine. In fact a German physician, Voll, was able to demonstrate in the 1950's that specific acupuncture meridea are connected with each tooth.

This connection of teeth with acupuncture meridea is of clinical importance. It is not rare for an unexplained problem in a remote part of the body to be caused by an infection or other problem in a tooth. E.g Low back instability and/or sciatica can be caused an infected wisdom tooth.

Disturbance of dental energetics can be caused not only by infection, but also by electrogalvanism. This occurs when electrical currents develop between different metals in adjacent teeth (e.g amalgam and gold). Mixed metals in saliva create a situation analogous to a wet cell battery with zinc and copper posts in an electrolyte solution. This electrogalvanic effect not only disturbs the electrical properties of the tissues, but also accelerates deterioration of the metal materials.

There is probably no area of medicine as neglected as that pertaining to the teeth and gums. Dentists in the English speaking world are prevented (by their licensure) from practising general medicine. They therefore have no idea of the medical repercussions of their work. Physicians on the other hand, know little if anything about dentistry and its effects on systemic health. The patient falls between the cracks.

One solution to this problem would be widening the scope of dentistry. In Germany, dentistry is a medical speciality. In other words, German dentists are physicians first; dentistry is learned later as a medical specialty It is small wonder that most of what is known about the medical effects of dentistry is coming from the German speaking countries.

Unfortunately in this context, medicine is slow to change and is very much tied to culture. Medical ideas, no matter how valid, move from one language and culture to another slowly, if at all.